What Got You Here, Won't Get You There

Scott Fenton, Principal, Scott Fenton Consulting, LLC
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Scott Fenton, Principal, Scott Fenton Consulting, LLC

We have all seen countless articles about the death of the CIO role. In some ways, there is some truth to that statement. With the rapid advances in self-service technology, business systems, and Cloud architecture, resting on your laurels and “keeping the lights on” will eventually cost you your job.

I have seen it so many times. A CIO does a great job of maintaining systems, providing desktop support, and keeping the customer relatively happy. Today, we call that table stakes. It’s the minimum price of admission to the CIO role, yet will not sustain it.

This article outlines some of the areas you should be addressing as a CIO to bring full value to your organization.

Forget about “Aligning with the Business”

I have never liked that phase. With the rapid advance in technologies and easily available Cloud solutions, IT needs to “integrate” with the business. Not in a literal sense, but such that resources in IT are dedicated and almost embedded within the various business functions. At a recent meeting I attended with business and IT staff, the attendees were asked to create a simple customer order and process it through the proper steps. With a lack of knowledge on how the business really operated, what should have taken 15 minutes took 90, and some could not finish at all. To be in the best position to offer real solutions (technology driven or not), IT needs to “walk a mile in their shoes”. Sit at their desk and do their job for a few hours. Understand the business process inside and out, and you’ll quickly become a trusted advisor.

  ‚ÄčThe key is that all IT business initiatives should be driven and tied directly to the business plan and support the overall goals of the company  

Sales and Marketing is Job #1

Let’s face it, unless you’re a non-profit, your primary goal is to make money. I hate to sound like Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street, but there is some truth here. Sure, you can support initiatives that reduce expenses, but unless you’re growing the top line, you’re on borrowed time. You can’t cut your way to long term profitability. The technology and solutions in today’s market to support the Sales/Marketing functions of your company are exceptional, endless, and growing daily. IT and the Sales/Marketing functions should be joined at the hip. Understand the global market, your competition, customer/prospect opportunities, and how your company can be a market leader and differentiator. The answer to these questions may require a technology solution, it may not. Dive in head first and spend considerable time here. It will provide the largest payback and highest return on investment. It’s also quite rewarding.

Strategic/Tactical Plans

Years ago, CIO’s used to develop 5-year technology plans. Today, we are lucky to obtain consensus on 12-18 month plans. The technology and business landscape is simply changing too fast. It’s a bit like changing the tire on your car while speeding down the freeway. You need to pivot quickly to stay ahead of the game. Every company should have a corporate business plan. The key is that all IT business initiatives should be driven and tied directly to the business plan and support the overall goals of the company. It’s not difficult to work closely with the business to construct an IT plan that covers both short term horizons, and long term goals. Build the plan with the business, share it with the executive team, get buy-in, and update it every six months. It’s okay to be disruptive and innovative. By continuing this regimen, the business builds trust with IT and over time, really good things happen.

Build a World Class Team

You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with. Hire people who know more than you do regarding their specialty. During my career, I have inherited several IT teams. Most have been exceptional and I have been very fortunate. I was once asked for some very deep technical advice on a particular issue we were experiencing. My response was “if I know more about your job then you do, then we’re both in trouble.” I look for bright professionals with not only a proven track record of success, but individuals with a passion for technology, a good understanding of business, and some fire in their eyes. Also, people who are not afraid to make decisions, and at times, fail.

Final Thoughts

Are you meeting with external prospects and customers? If not, ask yourself why. IT is such a critical function today. To provide the highest level of ideas and solutions to your company, you need to be in front of the client base.

Do you get invited to board meetings? If you are asked periodically to present to the board, that’s a good sign. It shows you are a valued part of the organization, are adding business value, and have a strategic play. If not, it’s time to be asking why.

A key part of the CIO’s job is risk management. At times it can be a tightrope act balancing stability within your organization and being innovative and taking some risk. You will need to take some risks to advance your organization, it comes with the territory.

Good CIO’s help leaders make better business decisions. Be externally focused and take off your technology hat.

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