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There is growing recognition that IT has much more to contribute than keeping your laptop on, and modern CIOs should emphasize innovation rather than (mostly) maintenance of the status quo. To get there, CIOs need to drive digital transformation more proactively, engage across department lines, and put their business acumen to work in sync with company goals. This change elevates IT away from trouble tickets and will be welcomed by C-level peers, employees, customers, and investors as a strategic partner.
“Our IT team is great, but we don’t need them very much,” is not a proclamation of self-sufficiency. It’s actually a warning that a company doesn’t leverage IT enough. Operating departments should be pushing to improve with new technology, using IT’s know-how to ensure success.
The CIO’s foundation for transformation
We consistently see higher employee and customer satisfaction where CIOs focus on improving the user and customer experience (UX and CX). That can mean extending automation to more IT-dependent tasks, from onboarding employees and customers to processing paperwork.
Next, the CIO should be strong as both a businessperson and a technologist. Your C-level peers and IT colleagues see the benefits of a business-oriented, transformation-driving CIO. Other stakeholders, from investors to department heads, will too.
Third, the CIO should help multiple departments scale their primary activities; they’ll grow more efficiently when the CIO is their ally. CIOs need to engage with leaders in both strategy and operations. This may not be comfortable for every CIO, but the “one for all” attitude boosts the importance of the CIO role and of IT itself. The stronger IT’s involvement, the better IT can help constituents achieve their goals.
Last but certainly not least, the CIO can redefine IT’s overall job description. The legacy concept of IT is often: “IT answers questions and resolves our IT problems.” That can become “the CIO and IT constantly propose and implement technology improvements and help us realize our best ideas”.
Automate the tedious tasks
To free up IT for transformation projects, a first step is to purposefully implement automation to take over repetitive tasks. In other words, get incremental process improvements out of the way — today, small efficiency gains are just table stakes. By noting which ticket actions occur repeatedly, it’s fairly easy to build up a backlog of tasks to automate. The more experience your team has converting processes to automation, the more efficient they become.
Zero-touch IT for the nuts and bolts
Zero-touch IT (using automation) is one effective methodology to help clear the decks and free up your team while improving the user experience. A prime example is onboarding new employees, where automation often makes for a warmer, friction-free welcome.
Equip the IT team with low-code and no-code tools that everyone — not just coders — can use to make zero-touch IT workable and easier to implement. With more functions automated, the CIO can shift gears and focus on more strategic engagement with other departments.
Create gains for the business by working with the business
In the next phase, IT can apply its abilities to transformation initiatives. In most enterprises, the CFO would not consult with IT about a finance problem. The CIO, however, can demonstrate that IT is a ready partner in solving finance issues. Go visit finance and see how else they could leverage technology and data. Finance probably uses SaaS-based applications geared to its planning, management reporting, and consolidation needs. Perhaps IT can integrate access to useful performance data that is generated elsewhere in the company and resides in information repositories that would help finance enrich their operations analysis and forecasting.
Engagement with other departments
As a CIO, you can have more impact on business results when you help other departments achieve their business goals. If you only emailed the CMO and asked, “How can we help Marketing?”, the response would be “give us tactical help” for smaller goals. Go further: open conversations with operational groups, and learn what they are struggling to achieve strategically for the year.
Are results immediate? Not always. Departments may not grasp overnight that IT is now an engaged strategic partner. Persist in seeking out strategic contributions where you’ll have a greater impact. Ask, “How can IT help you increase scale?” If the CMO tells you, “Marketing has committed to generating 20% more leads with only 5% added investment,” IT may know of data resources in the subsidiaries that will help.
Any resistance you encounter is more likely based on surprise than on not wanting your help. The fact is, companies need the CIO to take a business-first approach, and CIOs need business acumen, whether it was acquired on the job, learned formally, or came hardwired. It’s also key that a CIO can complete projects across functions, like a COO.
Once you understand and can help with the goals of departments where you engage, the perception of IT around the company will rise.
Maintain end-to-end involvement
Be there for a successful finish. CIOs and IT frequently make the mistake of providing technology to launch an initiative, then step back and lose touch.
IT should stay in the project, however. Guide the user department at each step, right through testing and rollout. Help solve issues that come up. You may see opportunities mid-stream to make the project more beneficial. In the end, share the podium and see that your IT team gets credit along with the joint team for successful outcomes. Your contributors deserve their moment in the limelight.
If you help a department meet its growth targets and stay close by as they use the new apps to get there, then at the next go-round, they’ll find it natural to include you in strategic conversations.
Less digital tedium, more digital transformation
If your IT brand is about transformation, recruiting may be easier. Your team’s role elevates along with yours, but they may need a perspective shift. You can build change leadership into the culture of your IT workforce by hiring and promoting people who interface adeptly with their business colleagues. You need IT people who want to create transformational wins, not just work at predictable tasks in isolated bubbles.
Not all CIOs combine the technical pedigree, business mindset, and cross-functional diplomacy. You can cultivate this combination in yourself and in your team. A proactive CIO can energize IT and lead its evolution by being an agent of change rather than a master of tasks.
Thomas Donnelly is chief information officer of BetterCloud.