CIOs -- Let's Break Through the IT Cost Center Paradigm!
Here we go again — IT is starting off the new year in a hole that we've dug ourselves into. Check out these current headlines:
• Why Your Company's Next CEO is Not Your Current CIO, Forbes, February, 2015.
" IT is still perceived as a cost center and the CIO as the Chief Infrastructure Officer."
• Better Pharma CMO and CIO Collaboration Will Advance the Digital Revolution, Accenture Study, March, 2015.
"Two-thirds (67%) of the CMO respondents do not view IT as a strategic partner."
• The Top 10 Strategic CIO Issues for 2015, Forbes, February, 2015.
"Transform the IT organization and reputation from no to yes, from SLAs to revenue growth, from obstacle to accelerator, from passive to opportunistic...For too long, CIOs and their IT organizations have earned the unflattering reputation of being Doctor No."
• CIOs Combat the Old "IT-as-a-Cost-Center" Perception, Wall Street Journal, February 2015.
"The IT-as-a-Cost-Center perception remains widespread, threatening to deny CIOs an opportunity to help drive strategy. New McKinsey & Co. research found only about one-third of executives said their CIOs are very involved in shaping the overall business strategies and goals of the company."
It's time to take a serious look in the mirror, come to grips with reality and hold ourselves undeniably accountable — Information Technology is still out of sync with our business leaders and customers. While many CIOs and technologists may defend IT in an attempt to sway perceptions, I recommend that we wisely invest our time, energy and resources in "changing the business of IT" through clear, deliberate and intentional acts that position our businesses and customers for extraordinary success!
Why is it so difficult for IT to make the leap from technology geeks to influential business advisors, empathetic customer advocates and inspiring change agents?
The short answer is...the IT industry continues to attract a certain type of individual plus perpetuate a certain type of servicing style — people who are great at tactics but who lack strategic chops. Now there is a place for IT tactics, but when the scale tips to a degree where the number of tactical thinkers and doers vastly outweighs the critical strategic thinking and doing required to help our organizations attain new performance heights, we're failing our key stakeholders.
What do critical thinking strategists bring to the IT table?
Closely aligning and partnering with their C-level counterparts and customers, they are in the forefront of the action:
Anticipating and quickly responding to market shifts.
Articulating the possibilities as they identify, sell and act on the simplest to the most complex innovative solutions that will grow the business, advance market share and strengthen customer loyalty.
Evangelizing for and accelerating movement on ideas and decision-making outcomes as well as seizing opportunistic moments.
Building out the IT brand by enhancing the customer experience, connecting with customers at an emotional level and proactively shaping communications and key messages that highlight promises kept plus business value delivered.
Speaking in business not IT language plus crafting compelling, real-life stories that influence and inspire decision makers to take enabling-technology action.
Digging deep as they genuinely empathize with their customers while learning about their needs, pain points and goals, then seeking out targeted solutions that not only make their customers' lives easier, but spotlight their customers' accomplishments and successes.
Being curious about and learning business nuances only to discover and act on organizational challenges that would have otherwise gone undetected.
Tackling complex topics and issues that others avoid, such as customer-centric big data and analytics, social media engagement or more industry-specific subjects.
Embracing globalization by reinventing security, mobility and virtual workplace strategies.
Managing by exception versus managing everything in a world that is spinning at a rate that will obliterate us if we can't get our arms around what's most important to keep our businesses thriving and competitive.
What's stopping us from building out our strategic bench strength?
It would be a considerable relief if there was one very simple root cause that could be easily rectified. Unfortunately, that's not the case. As CIOs, we're confronting some incredibly tough and sticky issues. In a nutshell, IT organizations are:
Thinking that they're strategic when they're not — a case of being self-unaware.
Failing to recognize that they need critical thinking strategists as a competitive advantage — a case of being oblivious.
Magically expecting tacticians to become strategists when they're not wired that way — a case of misguided optimism.
Continuing to hire like-minded people where tacticians are hiring tacticians — a case of "birds of a feather".
Squelching the efforts of the few strategists that do exist in IT organizations by continuing to drag them into the tactics — a case of not seeing the forest for the trees.
It's Our Choice
As CIOs, we must come to the realization that we're contributing to the IT-as-a-cost-center paradigm. We owe it to our organizations and our customers to take a hard stand and say "enough is enough". It's our responsibility to assess our strategic capabilities, or lack thereof, formulate a course correction plan and take decisive action. If we are remiss in our strategic responsibilities by continuing to turn a blind eye to this decade-old pervasive problem, we don't deserve a seat at the executive table...we don't deserve a loyal customer base...and we don't deserve to be fulfilling the role of CIO. Let's step up our game as IT leaders and permanently change the paradigm!