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Author and adviser Peter High discusses the role of today’s CIO, where that role has been and where it’s going.
By Patrick K. Burke
CIO Insight recently had the opportunity to chat with author, podcast moderator and adviser Peter High in New York City. High, an all-around busy man who was about to embark on an overseas business trip when we spoke, provided CIO Insight with a look at the role of today’s CIO, where that role has been and where it’s going. High kept an upbeat tempo as he settled into a chair by the fireplace in the sedate and cozy library of the Penn Club in New York. And the U Penn grad has plenty to be upbeat about. His latest book, Implementing World Class IT Strategy: How IT Can Drive Organizational Innovation, touches on the seismic shift CIOs are experiencing and maps out what’s to be expected of today’s stewards of all things technology. Aside from penning a book, High moderates The Forum on World Class IT, a popular podcast, and he’s already turned his attention to beginning another work focused on the first 100 days of a CIO’s tenure. The following is a condensed version of CIO Insight’s conversation with Peter High.
CIO Insight: How long did you work on your book, Implementing World Class IT Strategy–and the book has a subtitle–?
High: It does–How IT Can Drive Organizational Innovation. A little bit more than a year. It came out of a body of work that I had been doing with a variety of CIOs and helping them formulate strategies. One of the hypothesis that the book is based upon is many CIOs are phenomenal at execution, great at tactics, not necessarily as comfortable in creating strategy. So a lot of it comes from counseling CIOs who are looking to become more strategic, more part of the strategic conversation in the broader part of the enterprise.
CIO Insight: And that almost leads right into my next question. The role of the CIO is changing, they’re involved in more strategic initiatives, they’re more aligned with business decisions. What can CIOs do to prepare for this shift?
High: No. 1 is to become much more cognizant of how value is created in their enterprises. Traditional CIOs and IT teams have been focused on metrics like uptime and delivering projects on time and on budget and to the value specified. Which are still very important. But they’re table stakes. They’re the foundation. And to build above you need to understand what are the metrics that the CEO has on his or her dashboard. How does one grow revenue while also maintaining a good cost base or even becoming more efficient.
No. 2 is to become much more customer intimate. Too many CIOs, when they’re referring to customers, they’re referring to colleagues of theirs. They’re not referring to the people who actual provide the revenue for the organization. CIOs need to find a variety of ways to actually have touch points with end customers, whether it’s with one-on-one interactions, whether it’s participating in sales calls, taking part in call center calls, going out into the field.
CIO Insight: So really getting their hands involved in many facets of an organization?
High: It’s so important. The comparison I often talk about is if you go into the marketing department, you will see what is sold by that company. You go into the IT department of those same companies, and it’s often a sea of cubicles and you don’t necessarily have a feel for what the organization does. It’s really important that the IT department borrow more of the magic from the marketing department and actually have products or representations of the different services that the company provides in the IT department so people can touch it and think about it.
CIO Insight: You’re starting to see more CIOs getting involved with marketing.
High: That’s true, yes.
CIO Insight: Maybe it’s in a primary form right now.
High: It is. Thankfully there are some CIOs that have become very sophisticated. There are some that have done a tremendous amount already with that relationship with understanding the power of the nexus of marketing and IT. But the average CIO probably hasn’t done all they can in that relationship. And that is certainly going to continue to be an important one.
CIO Insight: You keep busy as an adviser, moderator of a podcast, author and writer. Which role do you prefer?
High: It differs day to day. The thread that runs across all those is engagement in this community, whether it’s about writing about them, talking with them, advising them. It’s becoming an increasingly interesting and important community to be involved in. So whether it’s reporting on them or having good conversations with them, to telling stories in book form or in podcast form or magazine form or advising them and trying to push them to continue to progress, each has areas that are particularly enjoyable.
CIO Insight: When you write, where do you like to write?
High: I travel an awful lot. Oftentimes it was on an airplane, on a train, in a hotel room. I try to compartmentalize this a little bit to the extent to which I could. This is actually my second book. My first book was written in 2008, and the quote-unquote advantage I had then was that it was during an economic malaise and so I probably had more time than I would have liked to focus on my book at that point. And so the reverse happened this time. I couldn’t have been busier, and of course this was yet another thing that was added to the top of the pile of things to work on. So it was catch as catch can, but I did develop a regular rhythm. If I was on a flight I would choose not to get the Internet option and buckle down and work on things. A lot of very early mornings or late nights. I tried to keep weekends relatively sacred with my family. But trying to find the time and carve off appropriate blocks is definitely one of the challenges.
CIO Insight: Well put. What’s your down time like? What’s it like when things are quiet for you?
High: I wish there was more quiet time (laughs). I try to spend as much time with my family as possible. I have two young sons, a 9 year old and a 6 year old, so spending as much time as I can with them…biking, hiking, so if I’m not on a plane somewhere or if I’m not in the office I like to be outside with my family doing something, some sort of activity.
CIO Insight: What’s next for you? Working on another book?
High: I am. I’m in the very early stages now of working on my next book, which is going to be on the CIO’s first hundred days, and the idea of what are the things that CIOs have done in the very early stages of their tenures, whether they were promoted, whether they were hired from the outside, whether they were acquired into the role of chief information officer for an enterprise. What are the essential things they ought to be doing in that first quarter on the job to set themselves up for success. But as importantly, what are the surprising details that a number of people have done uniquely that led to success. As with anything, a first impression is very important, all the more so in a job. And as complex as the CIO’s job is, those early days are tremendously important.