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The four steps to CIO success

The role of a CIO has never been more significant. Powering the tools that now fuel each business function, IT leaders are also seen as the source of innovation with Gartner reporting that 40 per cent feel they lead digital transformation in their enterprise.

As such, the CIO is arguably one of the most fundamental roles in many of today’s innovative and universally connected companies.

So what is helping successful CIOs fast track their career success? A study of 300 European IT leaders, commissioned by Colt, showed that 77 per cent of IT leaders believe their career trajectory is shaped by ‘critical moments’ (not day-to-day tasks) that led to high recognition and successes for the organisation.

By delving deeper into these results, I have identified four key steps that will help CIOs to flourish in today’s fast-paced digital environment:

  1. Pivotal moments are a game-changer for CIO success, so be prepared

To stay one step ahead of the competition, successful businesses are those that respond quickly to change. Given the speed of digital transformation in the workplace, the role of today’s CIO is to weigh IT projects against corporate goals, to identify the moments that count.

Whether facing new regulatory requirements, addressing customer demands or dealing with compromising events, how these moments are handled by IT leaders make or break their careers. One Colt customer explained that the biggest risk they face when innovating is to “not be fast enough” - in their case when driving transformations around cloud, mobile, social media, and big data. It’s paramount that IT leaders are fully up to speed and equipped to react immediately.

This is emphasised in the study when IT leaders are asked which recent moments have been pivotal and generated recognition within the organisation. The respondents highlighted the key moments that matter as two critically time-sensitive strategies; implementing infrastructure changes (67 per cent) and how they handled a tech crisis (63 per cent).

PWC reports that 90 per cent of large organisations suffered a security breach in 2015, up from 81 per cent in 2014, demonstrating the need for a solid disaster recovery and business continuity plan to be built for every eventuality.

Identifying and reacting quickly to these pivotal moments will be the game changer for those leading tomorrow’s digital economy.

  1. Effectively align with each business function

Oracle’s Dave Donatelli states that infrastructure is going through the biggest change in 25 years, highlighting the need for organisations to grow and develop along with technological and industry developments. 41 per cent of respondents felt securing internal support is the biggest risk to the company when driving innovation or enabling change. To ensure the greatest outcomes, better alignment of business and departmental objectives is paramount.

Communication with stakeholders is undervalued, and is the key to positioning the CIO as a trusted advisor rather than the ‘IT guy’. It paves a way for departments to see technology as a transformation enabler, and not just a function. Having full support of cross-business functions means that IT isn’t just pushing a project uphill alone, but is generating a genuine company-wide excitement for IT projects (whoever’s brainchild they are).

Another company I spoke with is a hotel group that was facing two significant market challenges; online travel agents taking a significant commission and new Airbnb models that are diluting the market. The IT team devised a unique app to provide a higher level of service to the customer and remove the ‘middle man’ – straight away they set about explaining the benefits to each function. Getting buy in from all sides is the most important part of a project like this, and provides an opportunity to learn how different cogs of the business could shape and provide input for such transformational projects.

  1. Develop an internal IT team and supplier network that you can rely on - trust is key

Technology issues are sometimes unavoidable, but the calibre of your team and suppliers can make all the difference. 85 per cent of respondents agreed that a partner proves its value when things go wrong, they understand the impact of service interruption and act accordingly.

The study also showed that 73 per cent of respondents believed the personal career risk they felt was mitigated when working with a team or set of individuals that they trust. Therefore building a strong team – the internal IT team as well as external partners and suppliers – is key to the CIO’s success and ability to excel.

  1. Be a champion for innovation and improvement, strive to constantly improve

IT leaders must consistently seek to exceed expectations of internal staff and customers through innovation – supporting key business functions and providing a better consumer experience. The key is to align tech investment with business objectives and growth strategy. It is paramount for IT and the wider enterprise to set common goals.

VMware CTO, Joe Baguley, entailed that if the CIO wants to “be part of the future, not the furniture”, they will need to challenge outdated assumptions about priorities in technology investments. Legacy IT technology still needs to be functional, however the CIO must find more ways to embed modern technological advancements such as cloud, mobile, social and big data into existing business processes.

At the pace of change we are currently experiencing there is no doubt that digital innovation will have a different face in the years to come. Those that will thrive in today’s digital climate are prepared for both the day-to-day and larger impactful moments.

They are aligned to wider business functions, have employed a team they can trust and have an eye on the next innovation on the horizon.

James Kershaw, Director of SME, Colt Technology Services

Image source: Shutterstock/g0d4ather