I have always thought that success as a CIO ultimately comes down to your ability to be influential. It’s true that influence is important in many roles and essential for executive roles but in no other roll is it as important as for the CIO. Let me explain.
The CIO is often the only executive role where you are not directly responsible or involved in the delivery of organisational value and there is no legal or compliance need for the role. This is changing slowly as technology is increasingly embedded into products and services and as we create business models which are completely dependent on online delivery, but it is still the norm. Think about it. Value creation is usually led by a COO with support from sales marketing and some form of product or service delivery function. Other executive mainstays include the CFO, human resource and often risk and legal. While these are clearly important business roles they have significant legal and compliance issues at their heart.
Then there is the CIO. In most traditional businesses it is cast as a support function yet there is no legislation that says you must use technology. The only rationale for investing in technology is that you believe it will make your business better at what it does. Under these circumstances there should be no confusion on why the role exists, add value or perish, and perhaps the only real question worth asking is how? How do you add value when there is no mandate and the role is not directly involved in value creation? The only answer I have come up with is by being influential with colleagues across the business. Which begs another question, how do you become influential?
While there are a lot of books and seminars or there that will teach you all sorts of techniques to help you influence others however I have always been a believer that at the end of the day results count. If you want to be influential in the long term then consistently produce the results that your organisation wants, needs and expects. For the CIO that can mean only one thing, deliver value.
Technology delivers value to the enterprise in a number of different ways and each one contributes to your ability to be influential.
- Employees use technology to make their daily jobs easier to do however if your systems are not available when they should be then work stops. The first value stream for the CIO to deliver then is reliable systems so work doesn’t stop. In reality this isn’t so much about delivering value as it is the removal of an irritant and destroyer of value and influence.
- Cost effective. Like it or not organisations run to the heartbeat of money. It doesn’t matter whether you are a for profit, a not for profit or a government department it is money that makes organisations run. If you want to be influential you need to be able to demonstrate that you are an effective manager of money. If you are seen as being a person who is careless with money your influence will be diminished and people will wonder if you even understand the basics of business and management.
- Optimise the current business. This is where value creation and influence really starts. This value stream is about making the business as a whole more efficient and effective at what they do. IT contributes to this in two fundamental ways. Firstly through process automation which improves organisational efficiency and secondly through the improved use of information which supports improved decision making. CIOs who can successfully deliver change programmes that optimise their organisation are very powerful and influential indeed.
- Create new value. We hear a lot these days about new and disruptive business models and more often than not the new business models are made possible by innovative uses of existing or new technology. Whether it is the creation of new products and services, the ability to access new markets or customers or simply a much cheaper way to serve an existing need this is perhaps best described as the CIO as alchemist, creating value when none previously existed.
So, more than any other C Suite role to be effective a CIO you need to be influential. To become influential you need to consistently deliver value to the organisation and by meeting the organisation’s needs and expectations starting with the most basic until all needs are met. If you do this as a CIO while you might not be the CEO you are likely to be the architect of the organisation’s future and highly influential in your company, across your industry and within the IT community.