Oct 23 2012

How Modern CIOs Can Lead the Way to a Services Future

To survive in a changing world, CIOs must be attentive and collaborative.

The role of the CIO isn’t the same as it was 10 years ago. In a post for GigaOM, EMC’s Ken Oestreich hit the nail on the head when he dubbed the CIO’s future role as being more of a supply chain manager than a gatekeeper of technology.

In the piece, he notes that “IT and its organization will gradually shift” in four specific areas:

  • Functional roles;
  • Skill sets;
  • Consumption model;
  • Operational function.

I believe there are three specific strategies CIOs and their teams can put to use to help accelerate this shift in their organization.

1. Explore a New Style of Networking

The modern CIO requires more extensive and purposeful networking, both within and outside of the organization. Internal networking allows you to get a finger on the pulse of the organization, giving you what you need to “prepare for the expected” and to gain support when you want to adopt a certain technology. External networking allows you to evaluate vendors better, and perhaps even encourage a vendor to alert you to a new product or release before the press is aware.

To get a leg up on internal networking, arrange a 30-minute meeting with the head of each department. Because this could be a time-intensive task (depending upon the number of departments), schedule the meetings over the course of three weeks or a month. Use these meetings to find out what is important to each department and learn what technologies they believe will help them achieve their goals. Make it very clear that you’re trying to get a feel for their department so that you can get them the best technology possible.

After the meetings, write a one-page summary of what you learned and share it with that department head later in the week to confirm you understood the department’s needs and wishes. Encourage the department head to come to you first with any changes, or to request different technology solutions. This sends a clear message that you want to serve that department (within limits); they’ll be more likely to work with you and understand when you can’t get a specific piece of technology.

Once the internal networking is established, it’s time to focus on building external relationships. Based on what you have learned from the department heads, seek out vendors for technology that your departments are already using or want to use. Try to find a specific contact you can communicate with. This won’t be easy. For example, if a lot of people in your company use Zoho apps, find someone at Zoho who can keep you up to date on the product suite. Explain that your company is a user and that you’d like to be informed of any big changes or upgrades in advance.

A good habit to set is to call or e-mail the representative about once every four to six weeks just to touch base. Also, pass on any positive stories you hear from your team.

An important part of external networking comes from knowing the key players in the market. Keep a list of popular vendors (whether you use them or not), and write down your impressions of that vendor. This can save you a lot of time in the long run. When a department head comes to you about a new piece of external technology the department wants to use, you can check your list to learn quickly whether or not the technology will integrate well with your company.

2. Prepare for the Expected

If you’ve built rapport within your organization, there should be fewer surprises along the way. Take what you know about your departments’ needs and what the market offers and combine it into a digital catalogue that can be updated easily and is accessible to your departments. Be sure to explain to each department head (and ask them to explain to their team) that all technology within the catalogue has been approved for use.

If employees need or want a piece of technology that’s not in the catalogue, they can submit their request to their department head, who then submits it to the CIO. This gives employees clear choices, increasing the chance that they’ll use approved technologies.

When it comes to IT security, keep your ear close to the ground so you can spot vulnerabilities. If you notice a particular external cloud computing solution is popular with users, try to replicate the external solution’s benefits with an internal cloud and let users within the organization know that it’s available. Also, try to emulate employee device preferences.

If most employees are using the technology from a mobile device, build an app that allows them to do so — otherwise, they won’t use the internal technology solution you’ve created.

The key in all of these situations is to be receptive and responsive to feedback from coworkers.

3. Orient Your Team

Don’t forget about your IT department in all of this. Transitioning your team to a service mindset is the most important thing you can do. Talk about the process you are going through to build the network. Encourage them to do the same and offer any ideas they may have.

Understand that this won’t be a one-time conversation. In fact, it should be part of every meeting. When you talk about your weekly tasks and current issues, ask whether they serve the company’s overall goals. Consider whether your behavior makes it easier to network internally and externally, prepare the system for new technology and upgrades, and integrate as necessary.

The Shift Is Unavoidable

The changes outlined above aren’t coming, they’re already here. Thanks to the consumerization of IT, more users are independent and free to make their own choices about technology. The best thing that a CIO can do to grapple with this role reversal is to embrace the change.

The CIO is no longer the sole gatekeeper of IT within an organization, but that certainly doesn’t mean he or she can’t, at the very least, direct traffic.