CIOs: Always Be Strategizing

Tech leaders should constantly be connecting the dots on how software, services, and processes touch all facets of the company.

Paige Francis, CIO for IT, Fairfield University

April 7, 2014

4 Min Read

Last week I was in a meeting with a seemingly kindred spirit wearing the disguise of a cultural anthropologist. He was studying the CIO role, and, as a female, I suppose I'm a bit of a rarity.

That being said, the time spent was enjoyable and surprisingly insightful. At one point in our discussion, he interrupted me with, "You are such a strategizer!" And that produced a moment of clarity for me. I mean, that is a compliment, right? Especially in these days of evolving roles and the ever-changing world of technology, how can a technology leader not expand out from small picture to largest picture?

Here's how I see it. I own it, so I am always strategizing. Great. But what does that mean? Hop in a time machine with me. 

[Tech leaders can learn from David Beckham's unique soccer and marketing skills. Read CIOs Need To Bend IT Like Beckham]

You remember the old you, the "you" of former days before endless meetings, client introductions, task forces, and roundtables. The semi-geek who looked wide-eyed at everything in life as a puzzle that taunted you for a solution, from database to web programming. Find that person within who still loves to solve puzzles, give 'em a good shake, and hold on tight. It's important today, more important than it was yesterday, and less important that I see it being tomorrow. 

Understanding how processes and software and services and procedure fit together is like a puzzle. Integration is essential. Don't simply take notes to review later -- conceptualize now. Allow the concept to spin out from the one process to how it will affect the entire audience and every piece it touches along the way. This is a valuable trait in any field, but the department where the biggest dollar impact can be felt is technology.

You must know the whole product:

  • Does it integrate?

  • Does it gather data?

  • Is it scalable, can it grow?

  • Is it newsworthy and can you press release it?

  • Is it reliant on something else, is there an under system, can you roll it out and then extricate yourself from an always-present relationship with the vendor?

  • Is it mobile?

  • Is it responsive?

  • What will it replace, and can it replace more than that (i.e., eliminate duplication of efforts)?

  • Is it sustainable, and can we maintain it?

This shouldn't be a "Give me two weeks to think about this" situation. Your mind should always be connecting the dots at the very mention of a need or new solution. Never assume anyone else is asking any questions. And, as it pertains to technology, if you're in a room and you approve it, you own it. If you own it, don't you want to use all of it? Sap every dollar out of its worth and then a penny more?

[For inspiration on how IT projects can transform your business, read 20 Great Ideas To Steal In 2014.]

In technology, the last thing you want to be is irrelevant and invisible. Even worse is to be incapable of multi-tasking and multi-focusing. Technology spans every facet of every employee and customer's day, business to personal. If decisions are made solely by a technology layperson, money will be wasted; projects will not cover the big picture; chosen products and services will exceed need and budget; and replacement cycle times will grow shorter while implementation periods will grow longer. If someone presents an idea, don't you want to conceptualize how it will impact all systems rather than be surprised by incompatibility once you're in production? Of course you do.

This is not "small stuff." Mastering the connectivity of business/campus technology needs is a bit of an art, one well worth honing. Technology, digital, marketing, integration... All require a strategic mind and methodology.

In some ways, strategy is a soft skill, as it reinforces a leader's desire to serve the customer's needs -- empathizing, prioritizing, and communicating. But it's also the most effective business tool, solving real problems while stopping redundancies and break/fix issues in their tracks. 

Our InformationWeek Elite 100 issue -- our 26th ranking of technology innovators -- shines a spotlight on businesses that are succeeding because of their digital strategies. We take a close look at the top five companies in this year's ranking and the eight winners of our Business Innovation awards, and offer 20 great ideas that you can use in your company. We also provide a ranked list of our Elite 100 innovators. Read our InformationWeek Elite 100 issue today.

About the Author(s)

Paige Francis

CIO for IT, Fairfield University

Paige Francis is the CIO for IT Services at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. She has a wide range of experience including defining and implementing strategic priorities for applying technology in any environment, rallying consensus across diverse interests, and fostering teamwork to maintain and implement new technology. Paige is energized by the education environment, earning a 2011 Education Innovator award, one of the top 50 in the nation. She has direct technology leadership in both two-year and four-year education.

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