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The Future CIO: Key Recommendations

25 Years Of InformationWeekFaced with this complexity and urgency, the CIO must balance his or her time and priorities among a number of competing but equally critical goals. Individual CIOs must make choices: what to focus on, who to spend time with, what to learn, and what to do. Your personal agenda depends on your own situation-as a CIO, you must first be very clear about the business imperatives and the personal issues you have to focus on. There's no simple way to operate IT in the future. However, there's a large set of tactical actions that a CIO can take to deal with the core dilemmas of IT leadership and accelerate the way the IT organization operates. While none of these tactics is revolutionary or even new, taken together they have the potential for dramatically accelerating the delivery of IT services:

  • Simplify the operating environment, governance, work processes, and task priorities that form the context for IT work.
  • The first step in simplification is to establish a standard business and technology architecture and use it as the basis for all IT technology decisions and vendor selections.
  • Move toward a simpler organizational structure for IT, centralizing infrastructure responsibilities and decentralizing application development and implementation responsibilities wherever possible.
  • Be very clear about your own organizational situation and the business requirements that must be satisfied. Establish an explicit short list of goals and stick to it.
  • Focus your time and energy outside the functional IT organization. Spend as much time as possible with external customers or suppliers (choose them based on strategic importance). We recommend at least 20% of your time, or one day a week, on average.
  • If your internal staff isn't strong enough for you to delegate most of your operational responsibilities, then devote a reasonable amount of time to strengthening the IT organization. (For most organizations this must be accomplished in six to nine months.) As the organization matures, shift your emphasis to spending more time with business clients and external customers.
  • As CIO, think of yourself as the CEO of an IT products and services company, regardless of whether you have a large staff or have outsourced all of your operations. Focus your time and attention on strategic issues, on external relationships, and on the future.
  • To accomplish this strategic leadership role, think of yourself as a storyteller and an entrepreneur, not as a controller. Adopt a marketing mind-set and introduce marketing processes into the IT organization to complement (not replace) the engineering disciplines that currently characterize the IT profession.
  • Establish clear, explicit goals for shortening IT decision and development cycles. Focus the entire IT organization on accelerating all of its core business processes.
  • Find the right balance for you personally, and for your organization, between fostering organizational change and exploiting the potential of IT, on the one hand, and ensuring the discipline to produce highly reliable, bulletproof systems and infrastructure, on the other.
  • Manage your own time and personal agenda carefully-and explicitly. Be sure to reserve enough time for reflection, learning, and peer-to-peer networking. Adapt your leadership style to match the needs of your organization, combining collaborative problem solving with task-focused direction setting to produce a cohesive, committed organization.
  • Dr. James I. Cash recently completed a 27-year career as a professor and senior associate dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. He's a member of InformationWeek's Editorial Advisory Board. Dr. Keri E. Pearlson is a research director with the Concours Group. Numerous graduate programs use her book, "Managing And Using Information Systems: A Strategic Approach," to train future IT leaders.

    Illustration by Dan Brown

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