How to upgrade your CIO role – 7 steps

CIOs are second-tier leaders? It's time to expand the role and assert its true value. […]
The role of the CIO has never been more important than it is today. IT trends such as security and data protection, cloud computing, machine learning and remote workforce plus the flood of legal regulations have raised the importance of the CIO post to a level that has long equaled – or even surpassed – that of other C-level executives. Unfortunately, the perception of CIOs by top management in many companies is still firmly anchored in the past.
Only the CIOs themselves can elevate their role in the organization by entering areas of the business that were once considered taboo or, until recently, didn't even exist. "Gone are the days when the CIO was a back-office IT cost manager," said Chris Scheefer, vice president of intelligent industry at technology and consulting firm Capgemini Americas.
"Today's CIO needs to adapt and become a business strategist, a digital innovator and an orchestrator for the business."
In practice, seven steps have proven how CIOs can expand and upgrade their role:
From the front office to the back office, the CIO must operationalize strategy and act as a change agent to bring new skills and talent to the organization. “The role of the CIO is to build resilience and organizational agility through the use of digital technologies. It thus becomes the motor that transforms new technologies and innovations into a sustainable competitive advantage,” says Scheefer.
The key to success is developing the post into a role that can drive business strategy and transformation momentum from top management quickly and widely. "For the CIO, this means being more than just a mechanism for delivering and managing technology projects," he explains. It's about bringing a results- and value-oriented perspective to the work – along with a solid plan for implementing the strategy holistically.
Too often, CIOs work reactively, waiting for business to approach them. Proactive engagement and building an IT organization that is integrated with front-office operations are critical to success, according to Scheefer. This means IT teams need to be engaged and integrated on key strategic priorities and provide relevant metrics to stakeholders to ensure a successful partnership.
Many, maybe even most, members of top management are not particularly interested in technology. But everyone wants to know how innovations can move the company forward. "Don't hide in the basement," advises John Abel, CIO of network equipment manufacturer Extreme Networks. "The worst thing you can do as a CIO is not engage with senior management."
As a solution, Abel suggests organizing and leading monthly meetings with the executive team to bring transparency to IT planning and operations. "To play a bigger role, the first step is to make sure your topics are relevant to the people you're speaking to." CIOs should know the hot topics and bring them to the table. "As a result, the CIO is better positioned in the company and can be more involved in the decision-making process," explains Abel.
When the IT department starts delivering value in the form of profits and not just cost reductions, colleagues will see the CIO in a whole new and positive light. "It's going to change perceptions of the CIO role," said Brian Jackson, director of CIO research at consulting firm Info-Tech Research Group. "The more the CIO can support the organization with key technology competencies, the more likely colleagues will highlight their success with a strong relationship with the CIO."
According to Jackson, the CIO gets a seat at the top management table when IT has matured enough to implement initiatives that directly improve the company's business model.
"When the CIO is able to generate new revenue, create customer touchpoints and drive data-driven decision-making, then they become an integral part of corporate strategy." CIOs should also consider engaging with professional associations and organizations. This makes it possible to exchange ideas with IT managers of the same rank. "It's often very insightful to discuss your own challenges and opportunities with other CIOs in the same industry," Jackson said. "It's a way to find solutions to problems faster."
According to Gardner, CIOs should also educate senior management that IT and security are constantly evolving and therefore require constant evaluation and support from top management. "By making this an open conversation and showing ROI over time, CIOs can better position themselves and their teams as an integral part of business operations."

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