Monday, September 26, 2016

Dear CIO, Don’t just align, be the business !

More than two decades back starting my life as an IT leader, I had aspirations to be an industry first and transform the company and leverage the then technological innovation – the “Internet”. Consultants and vendors joined the rising crescendo – if you are not on the Internet, your survival is at stake ! FUD created by Y2K threat was a welcome diversion for Glasshouse dwelling IT. Neither the Internet nor Y2K lived up to the disruptive promise; the subsequent squeeze on budgets did challenge IT Heads to change the paradigm.

Driven by technology evolution, the IT function transformed itself into structures with centralized, federated and other models of governance. The CIO was advised to “Align to Business” and get out of the ivory tower; frameworks offered help to the challenged, smarter ones declared themselves aligned with self-assessments. IT created demand and supply organizations to address the needs articulated by business and IT projects shifted to being jointly owned by business. The harmony however did not last too long.

“Be a Partner” became the new mantra, necessitated cohabitation of Business and IT teams and clearly defined business accountability for IT enabled projects; Business Relationship Managers were implanted across. COTS, Self-service and Cloud created opportunities to dismantle legacy as business loved the new mobility solutions that created new opportunities to engage internally and externally. Internal structures and cultures did challenge many while breakaway groups became beacons of success much written about and to be emulated by others.

Martha Heller in her new book “Be the Business” has captured journeys of many Rock Star CIOs who lived their journeys – with or just ahead of the hype curve – validating some of the theories built around their modus operandi and success. Assimilating these into almost a step by step process, the book makes great reading for existing CIOs to benchmark and make adjustments as required. Aspiring CIOs would do well to use the text as a guide to shape their behaviors as they get ready for the seat on the table and not behind it.

Interspersed CIO experiences ensures that the book is not prescriptive in disseminating pointers and tips. Martha offers that CIOs should take the bold step and risk to fill in gaps in the ever evolving technology landscape which keeps throwing demand for new competencies and capabilities fueled by every new buzzword. She goes on to dismantle the fad the Chief Digital Officer became and how CIOs who seized the moment grew into larger business roles while retaining their technology foundation or passing the baton.

The “iceberg” of IT first acknowledged in the early part of the century makes welcome refresh for large IT budgets struggling to keep the lights on or business as usual. Dismantling icebergs is a complex process and requires continued support across the enterprise without which the CIO finds it difficult to create change. Real life examples validate the need for holistic and structured approach to change and becoming Change Agents. They echo my journey in a few organizations; I wish I had the benefit of the learning available now to readers.

From the famous “IT Doesn’t Matter” by Nicholas Carr, the CIO has come a long way with business gains from automation, disrupted a few business models, co-innovated to create new products and services. Traversing the milestones I find the book easy reading with insights that offer models for CIOs to improve their success rates as they lead from the front and work in sync with business teams. As a veteran CIO blogger, I find the content resonates with my experiences and complements the learning.

Being part of the CXO team is a privilege which comes with its own set of management complexities; managing peer groups, measuring business outcomes and cascading them to the IT organization requires deft handling and setting expectations. The CIO is expected to create interventions that cut across silos while helping each functional head win their battles while the war needs to be won by the enterprise. Being the business is an equal task for the CIO who needs to keep the technology roots strong while being an equal on the Management team/Board !

Get off from your comfort zones, take a cue from the leaders who made it, your own destination and journey could inspire your teams to excel. The book is worth the investment.

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