Time and again we have heard discussed in the trade press and at industry conferences the perspective that CIOs must evolve past being providers of utility services. I couldn't agree more. However, there is one critical caveat that many people fail to articulate. Evolving beyond providing basic enterprise infrastructure services does not mean we can forget about these services.
While some CIOs have made the leap to be considered strategic partners with their C-level peers, these relationships are based on the credibility they have developed within their organizations. Nothing can destroy that credibility faster and easier than infrastructure services that are not working. If the trains aren't running on time, no one will care about anything else you have to share.
CIOs today have a wealth of options available to them in terms of how we can deliver infrastructure services. We can leverage the cloud, provide software as a service, co-locate with other companies or build our own. There are clearly pros and cons to all of these options, but taking the time to architect, build and run a reliable, flexible set of infrastructure services is critical to our long-term viability and credibility.
One area that doesn't get a lot of press when discussing infrastructure services is the importance of key leaders who are talented, competent professionals in this space. Many CIOs complain that they "don't have time" to be strategic partners because they are too busy putting out operational fires. Perhaps the most important choice a CIO can make is selecting and hiring a top-notch head of infrastructure operations. Such experts are hard to come by, and they often are not heralded with the same fanfare as other key leaders on the IT team.
When I first arrived at the USTA, my life was a series of fire drills. Everything was broken, and our service reliability was in the tank. One of the most important things I did was to hire a quality person to run my technology operations. This individual helped me stabilize the environment, put out the fires, and build the good will and credibility required that would allow me to start having more meaningful strategic conversations. He also allowed me the time and focus to get engaged in business conversations because I didn't have to worry about fire-fighting anymore.
Never forget the importance of delivering technology services--and the impact to your credibility if you lose focus on this critical area. Your best bet in this arena, as in so many others, is to surround yourself with talented, self-sufficient executives who can provide the foundation required to help you grow into the strategic leader your organization requires.
About the Author
Larry Bonfante is CIO at the United States Tennis Association and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also author of Lessons in IT Transformation (John Wiley & Sons). He can be reached at Larry@CIOBenchCoach.com.