Transforming the CIO: Here Go Hell Come!

This contributed piece was posted in CIO Journal on
A bit of motherhood and academic platitudes, but good reminders nonetheless.
Emphasis in red added by me.
Brian Wood, VP Marketing

Five Steps to Build CIO Relevancy

CIOs today face a crucial choice: drive IT to become more responsive to customer needs, regardless of the difficulty, or risk losing strategic relevance. It’s not easy. A tough economic environment, coupled with the rapid growth of cloud, social and mobile computing technologies, have plunged many IT departments into a fight for survival.
But despite the turmoil, this situation offers new possibilities for CIOs who take systematic steps to help IT, and the larger business organization, transform and adapt. Because successful transitions demand gradual change, we need a roadmap that defines practical steps and articulates a clear goal.
To create a roadmap for helping CIOs transform today’s challenge into opportunity, we conducted in-depth interviews with 10 forward-thinking CIOs and one CTO. The research focused on higher education because it is changing rapidly and can provide valuable lessons to other industries. For this reason, the roadmap is broadly applicable to virtually every industry that faces business disruption from technology change.
Higher education is under fire from many sides, forcing colleges and universities to reexamine their business model and approaches to learning. The challenges include a difficult economy that hurts fundraising; growing competition from non-traditional sources of education; and the rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs). These developments threaten the core economics and business model of higher education. Although these points are specific to education, every disrupted industry faces its own set of business model and operational challenges.
In many industries today, including higher education, inexpensive cloud-based software gives users a genuine alternative to IT-controlled resources. Software as a service (SaaS) applications, purchased and controlled by end-users rather than IT, are now common; meanwhile, social networking has created a generation of workers who demand greater transparency from their organization and higher responsiveness from IT. In today’s bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environment, IT departments that lock down technology or dictate draconian terms to users will lose status, credibility, and relevance to the business.
Many IT departments remain insular and unresponsive. In the right hands, however, the cloud-social-mobile nexus is a powerful catalyst that can accelerate strategic change to dramatically improve IT’s relationship with the business. To accomplish this, CIOs should solicit user input proactively, invite constituents to help set the agenda, and build services based on genuine customer needs.
During the course of our research, we identified a five-step IT transformation road map.
1. Identify strategic business drivers. CIOs should define an information technology strategy and business operating model that aligns IT to the organization’s strategic plan and operational requirements. To do this, the CIO must become fluent with the business challenges facing the company. He or she must go beyond the traditional, narrow role of CIO as provider of infrastructure and offer responsive services that benefit the organization’s stakeholders. Doing so enables the CIO to offer tremendous value and advance the company’s mission in important ways.
In higher education, for example, CIOs who participate at a strategic level understand the challenges their institutions face in recruiting prospective students. By contributing ideas on how technology can improve student recruitment, the CIO can make marketing outreach efforts more productive. Ken Moore, CIO of Sinclair Community College, uses innovative technologies to help the school target various prospective student groups and mobilize resources as needed to boost enrollment, “through our data mining process and some regression analysis.”
2. Build the right infrastructure. Lisa Davis, CIO of Georgetown University, stresses the importance of modern infrastructure: “As we migrate and leverage cloud solutions, launch mobile apps, and provide ‘anywhere, anytime access’ to information, we must build upon a core foundation of quality service.”
Infrastructure planning requires that a CIO anticipate his or her organization’s needs over a relatively long time horizon. Planning decisions must balance anticipated organizational need, budget, and expected usable life for each technology component under consideration. Choice of on-premise or cloud software may have a significant impact on infrastructure decisions. The infrastructure portfolio must strike the right balance between the competing priorities of business requirements, budget, and scalability.
3. Provide the right applications and services. Users depend on applications and services that IT provides, so the choice of which ones to support is a significant decision for CIOs. As Reed Sheard, CIO of Westmont College, notes: “To deliver greatest value, IT must supply necessary infrastructure and then deliver applications that support the institution’s highest goal-setting levels. Although infrastructure is the foundation, if the CIO cannot provide useful applications, the credibility needed to support innovation and transformation will remain unattainable.”
4. Transform the IT organization. To fulfill the promise of innovation, the CIO is responsible to lead IT into becoming a strategic partner. Because a strategic IT group functions differently than one focused primarily on feeds and speeds, the CIO must reshape the dynamics within his or her organization. Although not easy, internal IT transformation is a necessary step on the road to delivering maximum IT value. As the CIO of Seton Hill University, Phil Komarny, says, “Transforming IT, you’ve got to start there. It’s one of the hardest things I have done.”
5. Support organizational transformation and culture shift in the company as a whole. To make their company’s culture receptive to technological innovation, CIOs should establish systematic processes to listen to stakeholders, solicit their feedback, and encourage them to develop and share their own ideas for innovation. In the higher education context, for instance, Georgetown’s CIO, Lisa Davis, hosts “Innovation Summits” to discuss technology with the broader academic community. Similarly, Babson College’s CIO, Sam Dunn, established a procedure to elicit grassroots ideas by using an ideation platform. And Rob Rennie, CIO of Florida State College at Jacksonville, established a system to reward innovative faculty.
The CIOs we interviewed place a premium on developing trusted relationships with their organizations. For example, Joanna Young, CIO of the University of New Hampshire, says, “I have a very strong relationship with the provost office, a very strong [relationship] with student affairs…” Ultimately, trust and credibility are the currency of strategy, innovation, and transformation.
Changes in society, technology, and user expectations have created both upheaval and tremendous opportunity. The CIOs we interviewed demonstrate that IT can use innovation and new thinking to forge a high-value, strategic role in business. In higher education, the significant impact of technology demands that academic, administrative, and technical leaders cooperate as never before.
To ensure and sustain relevance, CIOs today have little choice but to reconceive their role as collaborator and innovator. The path forward consists of communication, collaboration, knowledge sharing, and relentless dedication to the customer – the hallmarks of strategic partnership.
Michael Krigsman, CEO of consulting and research firm Asuret, is an international authority on IT success, social business transformation, and related CIO issues. Interact with him on Twitter at @mkrigsman and visit his website, 
Lydia Segal, Associate Professor at Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School, is the author of “Battling Corruption in America’s Public Schools” (Harvard University Press) and co-author of “Making Schools Work” (Simon & Schuster).