A 10-Step Playbook for CIO Success

CIOs and other it executives have a very complicated job. Systems need to run, hardware needs to be up to date, longer-term architecture strategy needs to be developed and executed upon, transformation programs need to be rolled out, capabilities need to be delivered, and proper governance around information security and risk needs to be ensured.

At the same time, CIOs must innovate with the business and continually demonstrate the competence, strength and value of the IT organization. All of this is going on while budgets are being challenged, e-mail is piling up, and the leadership team is tending to the careers and morale of a complex mix of highly intelligent programmers, analysts and IT support staff.

As a result, CIOs can become distracted and focus on one (usually the most urgent) of the many key ingredients that are essential to their success. Why do they do this? Because many times the IT leadership team, the IT organization and business partners expect them to become very involved when an urgent matter arises. And let’s face it: CIOs enjoy digging into the latest urgent issue–especially if it is technical in nature–because many of them grew up as technologists.

As with any typical IT organization, urgent matters perpetually arise, and the CIO loses track of the most important elements of running the organization. This scenario happens over and over, most of the time to the detriment of the CIO.

CIOs try many things to avoid this trap. They hire a chief of staff. They ask their executive assistant to incorporate “think time” into their calendars. They go to leadership training. They start lists. They work late. They have staff meetings to “catch up” on what is going on. They cancel town hall meetings. And the list goes on.

However, for IT leaders, the real key to success is balance. CIOs must have a balanced list of key responsibilities and focus on all of them every day. To do that, they need to delegate more, trust their leadership, read current research on industry trends and communicate more effectively. Otherwise, business leadership will lose faith, dramatically shortening the CIO’s life span at the company.

When running the IT organization, CIOs and other IT leaders must focus on the broader picture. Their mission is clear: The CIO is foremost a business leader–one who relentlessly delivers IT in support of business objectives, while continually seeking to drive down overall costs.

The recipe for success–for the CIO and the business–includes the following 10 ingredients:

1. Run the shop effectively. It seems basic and unglamorous, but this is the most fundamental principle of running IT. Nothing will undermine the credibility of IT leadership more than instability and a broken platform. Without predictable, reliable, and stable systems and infrastructure, permanent progress is not possible. Transformation goals cannot be achieved, building new software (on a broken platform) becomes more difficult, and multisourcing grows immensely more complicated and risky.

The CIO must have a seasoned leader running the operational platform, and that individual must also understand the business. Putting a very technical leader in charge of operations won’t work. Rather, the leader must understand and be able to explain the business ramifications of operational issues, in addition to understanding the systems and technology. The operations leader must be able to articulate an operational vision for the organization.

The CIO, IT leadership and the IT organization as a whole must develop a culture that values operational competency. The CIO should be briefed on operational matters (running the shop) every morning. He or she should know the status of overnight processing, review the key value metrics, and understand the main operational risks and issues (including audit findings, key risk indicators and information security matters).

2. Reduce expenses. Cutting costs is more than simply satisfying the latest mandate of the CFO. CIOs must demonstrate a commitment to reducing expenses perpetually, even in a climate in which budgets increase. A CIO who earns a reputation for financial prudence will quickly earn the respect of executive leadership. Ironically, CIOs who constantly find ways to reduce expenses are given more consideration when they request additional funding or an investment in IT.

So, how can the CIO reduce expenses with tight budgets? It starts with culture. IT professionals at all levels know where the waste is. Incorporate cost-cutting goals into performance objectives. Most important, make it someone’s job to find ways to reduce expenses. At the same time, ensure that the organization understands that reducing expenses does not automatically mean eliminating jobs.

The CIO should always be looking at the basics, such as the consulting rate structure, existing software contracts and licenses, multisourcing (Step 3), obsolete systems, server consolidation, virtualization, workforce optimization, data center chargebacks and storage use.

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