Become a technology strategist. The era of the CIO who simply "keeps the joint running" is over. Just as good business strategists need to think beyond the next quarter and explore new opportunities, IT leaders need to look for emerging technologies that accelerate innovation, from promising cloud applications to internal app stores to advanced virtualization management. Standing still isn't a safe place to be anymore.
Build a service catalog. Gone are the days when you can simply serve the business stakeholders who bark loudest with one-off, end-to-end infrastructure and apps to meet their needs. Technology leaders need to step up and say "You want to drive the cost out of operations? Then give me the resources up front to provision shared services and the authority to make every appropriate department use them so I get maximum economies of scale." Embrace commoditization when you can and you'll free up resources.
Cultivate your developers. When infrastructure becomes commoditized, developers are the big winners. Dev and test and deployment cycles shorten dramatically, leaving more time for developers to interact with the business, engage in agile practices, and create applications that accelerate business processes. Coming out of a disastrous recession, the No. 1 imperative is to jump on new business opportunities. Create a development culture where you can deliver apps to meet that challenge with all appropriate speed.
Practice postmodern security. Networks are permeable. In fact, most are already infected. The perimeter still needs to be protected, of course, but concentrate your efforts on authentication, access control, encryption, and other security technologies that protect data and applications.
Empower your users. In most businesses, the most valuable employees are often the ones who have the initiative to provision their own technology. If they're not going to wait for IT to build what they want and go to the cloud instead, don't clamp down; help them find the right providers and create a framework for provisioning instead. Rather than ban mobile devices, create policies that enable people to use them safely -- and explore new technologies like mobile client hypervisors.
The truth is that every part of IT matters -- but a smooth-running elastic infrastructure is the new baseline. To stay strategic, CIOs need to drive cost out of infrastructure and shift investment to technology and development that grows the business. And when IT makes users its ally, and shares control over technology, IT isn't diminished -- it just broadens and deepens its integration with business.