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Among the many kingdoms in the popular “Game of Thrones” series, there is a secluded island that is home to an ancient temple and a clan of assassins. In this temple, there is a special room called the Hall of Faces. Arya, one of the lead characters in the show, is being trained on the island and enters the forbidden room, only to find a seemingly endless wall of unknown faces that are used by assassins when they go on a mission. The faces allow the assassins to assume another identity and therefore maintain their anonymity.
"Strong communication and collaboration skills along with a solid technical acumen are key"
While chief information officers are not trained assassins, the face they wear depends a lot on the role they need to play in their company. Historically, the CIO had oversight of technology management and operations. This could include everything related to tech, including purchasing and developing applications, infrastructure, desktop support, and enterprise architecture. Over the last 20 years, the role of technology has morphed to include client-facing product development in many organizations.
The definition of the CIO role has changed dramatically in the last 10 years with even more profound change in the last five. The use of technology in every aspect of business has led to multiple “owners” of technology management with titles like chief technology officer, chief security officer, innovation officer, infrastructure officer, and product owner. While smaller organizations still wrap up all of these responsibilities into one person, the intense focus needed on each area increasing requires separation and collaboration among multiple people.
The new reality is that leaders in all areas of business know a lot about technology. They know how to find it, learn about it, and use it. There are great sources of information online, including blogs and podcasts, which cover everything from the latest consumer devices to artificial intelligence to augmented reality. Everyone wants to be tech-savvy and the pace of change can leave today’s CIO thinking he or she cannot possibly keep up. For a company’s employees, this dynamic can create confusion about who really manages technology and what the role of the IT organization should be in today’s enterprise. For an executive management team and board of directors, it can make strategic technology planning a difficult process since in reality, there isn’t only one voice speaking about the technology footprint.
However, understanding all the factors involved in technology decisions isn’t as easy as reading a blog. Just as finance, sales, and operations management require years of experience to be effective, so does technology management. As a CIO, you can’t afford to delegate your leadership role because your co-workers and peers are increasingly educated in your area of expertise. You need to make sure every technology decision fits into enterprise architecture. You need to be the expert on how a cloud-based application will fit from a security and data integration standpoint. You need to know how a solution partner will complement your in-house staff and work with other partners supporting separate but integrated solutions. You need to manage costs and ROI of the enterprise solutions, not just look at one piece in isolation. As CIO, you must embrace the role that your company needs you to play and show value by developing a team that understands the new role of IT.
1. CIO as a HR leader: CIOs are building their IT organizations to optimize the commoditization of the enterprise landscape. With everything from software as a service, applications as a service, and infrastructure as a service available has opened all kinds of possibilities for the IT organization.
2. CIO as a business manager: From a business management perspective, commoditization has created an opportunity to look at IT as an enabler. Seasoned business managers can now assemble capabilities without the need to have in-house horsepower that was needed in the past. More organizations are now open to business leaders with some IT acumen heading up their IT organizations.
3. CIO as a financial manager: CIOs must be more financially savvy-cost containment is not enough. Understanding the impact of utility based pricing models on P&L and financial metrics is critical. CEOs and CFOs will be looking for CIOs to make informed decisions from a financial perspective.
4. CIO as a growth manager: In a more connected world, all forms of business-to-business collaboration are being explored. CIOs are increasingly finding themselves in the forefront from a marketing, business development, and even from an innovation perspective. Adding capabilities to increase business agility, business collaboration, and product life cycle management are transformative from a growth perspective.
By embracing the new dynamic, you will put more emphasis on skills like architecture, iterative deployment, and application interfaces. Finding ways to engage with tech-savvy business partners on vendor management and security, and the need to consider bigger enterprise impacts, are critical.
Trying to take control of everything and wearing a legacy CIO “face” is a recipe for disaster. Strong communication and collaboration skills along with a solid technical acumen are key. People who want to be part of the solution-not develop the solution in isolation-will be your best representatives and create the most value for your company.
The CIO role has changed and likely will continue to change. Leverage what you’re good at and what you have learned over the years, but stay agile. It’s the best thing for you, your team, and your company. The days of an isolated island for IT are over. In the end, you must be willing to change that face you’ve been wearing if you want to continue to bring value to your organization.