How CIOs can earn back credibility

Here's what CIOs must do to build their personal and departmental credibility and help advance greater company business and strategic goals

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Recently, CIO published its "14th Annual State of the CIO" report. Among the most interesting findings were the comparisons of how CIOs saw themselves and how their business counterparts viewed them. While both sides agreed that CIOs have a seat at the table, business counterparts were more likely to question the CIO's role, purpose, and credibility within the company.

Here's what CIOs must do to build their personal and departmental credibility and help advance greater company business and strategic goals.

Break with the past

The traditional, or perhaps stereotypical, roles of the CIO were to manage back-office functions, keep a cost center under control and manage risk. A CIO ran a department more concerned with keeping the lights on than pushing business units towards new products.

But the rapid rise, adoption and expectation of cloud, mobile and social tools have vaulted IT departments squarely to the front of any business strategy.

CIOs must embrace this new spotlight. They will never earn credibility with back office or maintenance work. Credibility will be earned by partnering with business units to provide technology leadership in innovation.

This innovation, as highlighted in the CIO survey, is most often customer facing. This again changes CIOs' focus from (traditional) internal to (innovative) external audiences. It gives the IT department the opportunity to shed its image as a unit that spends money and re-emerge as a unit that makes money.

Be easier (and faster) to work with

Responsiveness and speed are the CIO's biggest friends for earning the credibility of being a person or department that's easy to work with. Rather than saying, "I'll put you on the list," or waiting six months to a year for project delivery, CIOs can say, "I'll have a team on it tomorrow morning."

Getting to that point isn't easy and in some cases, it involves restructuring of entire departments, companies and partner ecosystems.

Being agile, as in the ability to quickly adapt rather than a strict definition of the software development principles, plays a big role in increasing speed. CIOs are already connected to business units and important actors throughout an enterprise. If a crisis or opportunity arises, they don't have to start from scratch to build those relationships and trust in order to get the job done.

A change in sourcing models for IT can also help increase speed of first response and of project/product delivery. Consider the multisourcing approach advocated by Forrester and the adaptive sourcing approach as defined by Gartner.

Select partners based on their strengths for the project at hand. A maintenance project that isn't time or revenue critical can be outsourced offshore and still be delivered on time and on budget.

For something more critical or innovative, an app that has a hard launch date and is behind schedule, it's better to find a partner that understands the customer and the product, has teams that can sit with the business and that can deploy these teams immediately. By hitting the ground running with faster ramp up times and time to peak velocity, these partners can earn the CIO credibility for showing urgency and time sensitivity for key business priorities.

Be the voice for what technology enables

CIOs should be advocates for what software, and technology in general, enables the company, client or customer to do. But, CIOs too often shrink from that responsibility or are seen as administrators rather than consultants.

Don't just be the person called when a computer doesn't work. Tell the business what's possible and what they can do next. CIOs should advocate for new and better ways to leverage technology.

To do so, IT at all levels must engage with business units. There should be daily interaction with internal business leaders and important outside customers and clients.

This is made possible by the close physical proximity of the two groups. When a development team is located hundreds or thousands of miles from the CIO and other business units, communication breaks down, things are overlooked and credibility is lost.

Similarly, there needs to be cultural alignment between IT and customers/clients. IT needs to understand the customer mindset. How will this business or person use this product? If developers really don't understand the user story, they can't create a product to meet it.

IT's success should be business' success, and visa versa. And it can be if CIOs earn the credibility to help guide business strategy. They possess a wealth of knowledge that too often goes untapped. By embracing a new focus on innovation rather than maintenance, showing a concern for speed and being easier to work with and advocating for how technology can better the business, CIOs can gain that credibility and set themselves, and their organizations, up for long-term success.

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