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IT Leadership
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Craig Williams, Chief Information Officer, Ciena
Craig Williams, Chief Information Officer, Ciena

10 Ways CIOs Can Run Their Business Like a Business

Being a CIO isn't just about serving the business; today it means running the IT operation as a business itself.

The role of the CIO is evolving as quickly as the technology and business information we manage. Our teams are no longer solely responsible for ensuring technology works, but are also expected to be a source of business transformation architected to be competitive advantages for our organizations.

Craig Williams
Craig Williams

As we’ve made the shift from a purely technical to a more strategic role, the issues that keep CIOs up at night are not much different than any other C-suite executive. Leaders in any department must innovate, break down silos and remain agile to their changing customer demands.

Following are 10 areas that a CIO must focus on to ensure that his or her department is running smoothly, and ultimately contributing to their company’s goals.

Build a team of PHDs: A CIO is meant to strategize, create focus and motivate employees. Building a high-performance, synergistic team is tough -- attracting, recruiting and motivating professionals that fit your company’s culture takes enormous time and effort. However, if done right, the payoff can be significant. Effective CIOs understand that people who possess Passion, Heart and Drive (PHD) can ultimately be catalysts to the rest of the organization.

Understand IT’s link to revenue recognition and overall company success: Spend time talking with the executive leaders of the company. Understand their problems, their needs and what will ultimately help grow the company. Once understood, create an IT strategy that aligns to the company’s success.

Create a collaborative environment: Employees already spend close to 80 percent of their time in meetings, on the phone and responding to e-mails. It is up to CIOs to ensure teams collaborate effectively, which means strategically implementing collaboration technologies but more importantly, effective CIOs must think about how meetings are actually run. State the purpose of the meeting upfront to make sure everyone understands the intended outcome of the meeting, send pre-read material 24 hours in advance, end your meeting with the original goals in mind, and ask participants if the outcomes were achieved.

Create a competitive advantage: Whether it’s getting data into the hands of decision makers quicker in order to make better decisions for the enterprise, or being able to deliver content to the customer quickly, it’s all about helping the company run faster, better and stronger with IT. CIOs should remember these three points when looking at how “big data” today can create a true differentiator: 1. It changes industry structure and, in so doing, alters the rules of competition. 2. It creates competitive advantage by giving companies new ways to outperform their rivals. 3. It spawns whole new businesses, often from within a company’s existing operations.

Define your core and your context: It sounds simple, but many CIOs don’t take the time to define what their business model should be and how much time are they are spending there. If, for example, the IT organization is focused on developing next generation datacenters, then much of the resources should be spent on just that—hiring great experts in that field. If that’s not the core of the business, then datacenter work is context to your mission. The same goes for other services—understand what is core and what is context and determine if your IT department can do it better than anyone else.

Embrace faster delivery models: When thinking about developing quicker rollouts, the term “DevOps” comes to mind. DevOps represents taking a collaborative approach to IT and product development. While this often comes more naturally to younger companies, the adoption of principles embedded in DevOps can be beneficial for a company of any size. Taking the DevOps approach makes it possible to speed up innovation, while also continuing to deliver quality products that meet customer expectations.

Make end-user experience a priority: A “positive” end user experience will look differently for every organization, but in almost every case, it requires conceptualizing what customers want and what is important to them. A CIO must take the time to work with other business departments and speak with customers and prospects directly to understand what “wows” them, as it is often not what you’d expect. Engage the customer through trials, ask for their specific feedback and incorporate it into your product offerings through improved technology, better processes, training, communications, and the like.

Put security on top:While data security keeps CEOs up at night, a breach in security is a CIO’s worst nightmare. Security must be looked at holistically, not just on an ad-hoc basis. Unfortunately, in many instances, solutions and products are purchased with no overall plan, and security issues are identified only after a problem occurs. Security threats always change and as such, it’s important to have a security strategy that continually changes with the threats, too.

Support a digital transformation: There’s a lot of marketing hype behind ‘digital transformation.’ Simply put, digital transformation is a CIO’s job. He or she should have an up-to-date understanding of business problems and what IT can do to address them with technology, improved processes, models and IT competencies. CIOs should be in the business of transforming their company with the assets at their disposal.

Be purposeful and create space: It’s easy to get consumed by the latest issue of the day, managing escalations or even the amount of continual meetings that one has to go to. Instead, find at least 1.5 to 2 hours each day for thinking. Make the time to ask yourself if you’re focused on your team’s culture, if communications are happening enough, if that strategy session you’ve been meaning to start is on track or not.

CIOs today take on more responsibilities than ever, but also have an opportunity to have a bigger impact on the company. In many ways, they are responsible for the success of the business. Creating and implementing a comprehensive IT strategy that touches the entire ecosystem is critical. Without one, competitors will uncover their own competitive advantages first and move on them before you can.

Craig Williams is Chief Information Officer for Ciena, a network strategy and technology company.

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