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The CIO: Thinking like a CEO

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Over the past 30 years, now is the best time to be a CIO. The role of the CIO is in transition. At the same time, the CIO is increasingly more critical to businesses. The CIO role is moving from a Traditional CIO to a Transformational CIO. As technology becomes a necessity in defining business, the shift to a transformational CIO brings out a business focus and ultimately drives technology leadership. It is this same business focus that governs the priorities of the CEO and shared by the rest of the executive team including the CIO.

Historically, the connection between the CIO and the CEO spanned a dot or two. That doesn’t tell the true story as even roles two steps from the CEO were worlds apart. As a company progresses through their digital transformation journey, the role of the CIO increases in prominence and moves closer to the CEO. In turn, the CIO must change their thinking to that of the CEO…and the rest of the executive team. To be clear, the message is not for the CIO to run their IT organization like a CEO as that methodology brings a very different outcome.

A SHIFT IN THINKING

The role of the transformational CIO is very different from that of their predecessors. As discussed in ‘The difference between the Traditional CIO and the Transformational CIO’ the CIO, along with the rest of the organization experiences a dramatic shift in thinking. Speed and accuracy define the business decision making process. Executives rely on technology more than ever to make good business decisions. The CIO sits at the forefront by leading the technology organization.

The focus of the CIO is alignment with the CEO. In many ways, the CIO exhibits traits of the CEO while still identifying opportunities where technology becomes the differentiating strategic weapon to solving business problems. In organizations with close synergy between the CIO and CEO, the outcomes are incredibly positive.

LEARNING BY EXAMPLE

Aligning with the CEO’s thinking brings a unique clarity. However, for many CIOs, getting into a c-suite mentality is not a trivial task. It requires a change in language and perspective. In the process, the CIO adopts the conversations of the c-suite. Put another way, if the c-suite is not having the conversation, neither should the CIO. Technology conversations are replaced with business conversations. Technology becomes an enabler to business advantage, in business terms and not in technical jargon.

For years, the CIO has yearned for ‘a seat at the table’. Namely, to be considered an equal among fellow c-suite peers. Now, more than ever, it is vital for the CIO at the table. Like respect, a seat at the table is something earned, not an entitlement. Once there, one must continue to prove their ability to maintain the seat. Nor is a seat at the table the end state. The importance of technology to a company’s strategy is driving some organizations to consider putting CIOs on their Board of Directors further proving that the CIO’s role is not the end state of potential for the individual.

DRIVING TOWARD CIO EXCELLENCE

The vision of the leader proves paramount in driving toward success. Culture takes time to change and so does the role of the CIO. It starts first with leading by example. One of the first steps in the journey is Changing the language of IT: 3 things that start with the CIO. By changing the language, it telegraphs a clear message of inclusion and business focus. Second is a fundamental understanding of the business. Digital Transformation requires intimate knowledge of the business, lead by the CIO and through different perspectives. A third step is in building relationships with executives including the CEO. Until there is a relationship, it is hard to build trust and respect. These three steps are vital to the success of both the CIO and the company as it experiences the digital transformation journey.

For the CIO, the role could not be more vital nor exciting. Now is the time to seize the opportunity and capture the passion driving business advantage.

This article was first published on the AVOA blog.

Tim Crawford is a strategic CIO & advisor to CIOs, large global enterprise organizations across a number of industries including financial services, healthcare, high-tech and major airlines. Tim’s work differentiates and catapults organizations in transformative ways through the use of technology as a strategic lever.

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