These days CIOs are regularly being told that they need to be more strategic, that they need to reposition themselves as a business leader first and technology leader second and that they need to be spending more time with their C-suite peers, focusing on the customer and proactively identifying ways in which technology can be used to enhance the customer experience, enable revenue streams and create competitive advantage.
And I should know. The need to for CIOs to reinvent themselves and the IT function is something I regularly write and speak about. And it is something that an increasing number of CIOs ask for my help and advice to achieve. I also spend a lot of time with other members of the C-suite helping them to recruit this new type of CIO (or someone who is capable of evolving into it over time). So there is no doubt that the role of the CIO and IT is changing; the digital business needs a different type of CIO and a different type of IT function. CIOs need to be less technical, have more non-IT knowledge and experience, and be a lot more social than they have been in the past. Networking, influencing and collaboration skills are now just as, if not more, important than technical knowledge.
I was recently chatting with a CIO about the steps they needed to take in order to start the process of repositioning themselves as a business-focused technology leader within their own organisation. We discussed the need to develop their personal network both inside and outside the business and the value of assessing their own brand to see how they were perceived and viewed by their peers. And we also discussed developing their own personal development plan to build their knowledge and experience of other business functions, competitor activity, customer behaviour, industry trends, etc, so that they could contribute to broader discussions and initiatives, and be more proactive in identifying opportunities to use technology to create value.
The conversation was going well and the CIO in question was beginning to see a way forward and understanding the steps they had to take over the coming weeks and months. But then they posed this question: “but when their PC needs fixing they will still see it as being my responsibility and all the time they do that I will always be the guy that fixes computers. How do I change that?” It was a good challenge and I have to admit that for a brief moment it had me stumped!
But then we started working through the actions that CIOs can take to break this link and change the perceptions of their peers. First, get a good service or operations manager in place and make it clear to the rest of the business that he or she is the go-to person for service and support issues. But this still has the potential for escalations about poor service, response times and frequency of incidents. Next came the option of outsourcing parts, or all, of the service and support activities. If done well then this will increase service levels and reduce escalations but still leaves the CIO as the ultimate point of contact for service issues and hence the potential for still being seen as the guy that fixes computers.
Having outsourced the provision of day-to-day support for some or all of the IT estate, CIOs could consider transferring the management of these services to the facilities department. Why not view the provision and support of PCs, peripherals and accessories in the same way as items of office equipment and network points, cables and connections as one of the building services alongside heating, lighting and air conditioning? Under this approach the facilities department would deal with calls from users and liaise with the relevant service provider(s), and the facilities manager would be the point of escalation for service issues. This removes the CIO from all of the day-to-day issues associated with providing such services and hence leaving them to focus on the more strategic and value-adding activities that their peers are also spending time on.
These are all good solutions that will make a difference to how CIOs are viewed by their peers and will also free up time they would normally spend managing the organisation’s existing infrastructure and systems. But not everything can be outsourced and for many services that can be outsourced it may not be practical or feasible to transfer responsibility for the day-to-day management of the service providers to another function. All of which means the CIO will be still be the ultimate point of escalation and may still be seen as the person responsible for fixing things that stop working. So how does the CIO overcome this perception? How do they stop being viewed as the break-fix guy?
The simple answer is to not be that guy; the single biggest factor in how a CIO is viewed by their colleagues in the C-suite is their own behaviour and actions, and the contributions they make to discussions, issues and initiatives outside of the IT function. If they are perceived as being strategic, innovative and a source of advice, ideas and solutions that help the rest of the business solve their problems then this is what their peers will want to discuss with them. Time spent with a strategic and innovative CIO will be valuable to other executives and they will not want to waste these interactions discussing detailed operational or service issues.