December 22, 2016

Outward Bound: Customer facing roles for IT

CIO Strategy Exchange, New York, 2015

This report maps IT’s new navigational course: “Sail West, young (again) IT!” Change is in the air as intrepid CIOSE members explore uncharted markets brimming with new imperatives and populated by an unruly tribe of talented tech natives (aka millennials). Among the questions examined in our interviews:

  • Is IT’s role changing? What functions are being added or spun off?
  • Do the CIO’s current priorities emphasize e-commerce, IoT and emerging technology?
  • Which IT suppliers are surging, struggling and holding steady?
  • What is the company’s position on outsourcing?
  • How are millennials being recruited, onboarded and retained?
  • How is management calibrating IT benefits and risk?
  • What is the CIO’s relationship with the CEO and top management?

The strategic profile of IT is surging, thanks to a perfect storm of tech-driven risks, opportunities, advancements and applications transforming the business landscape. The makeup of the storm includes escalating cybersecurity concerns, big data, emerging technologies, competitive e-commerce, and the Internet of Things. The complexity of the challenges and opportunities requires skill levels well beyond the purview of most business units. It also raises the bar for CIOs and their staffs.

Forbes gives today’s strategic CIO three transformational tasks: 1) Be the joyful disrupter, not the hesitant and befuddled disruptee. 2) Function as the “Chief Acceleration Officer” by fast-tracking insight, operations and decision-making. 3) Forge strategic and deep relationships with the CMO, CHRO, CFO and beyond (Forbes, February 17, 2014). But no CIO is an island. Without an expansive and innovative enterprise culture, ambitious IT pursuits are dead in the water. In a provocative 2014 survey of 400 global business leaders by HBR Analytics Services, roughly a third of respondents described their organizations as “innovation accelerators” where “innovation was in the company DNA and consciously pursued” (HBR, March 2014). The report identifies several defining features of innovation accelerators, including:

  1. A commitment to innovation that starts with the CEO.
  2. An approach to innovations that values speed over perfection. Processes are structured and closely managed, but cut through bureaucracy.
  3. A culture that simultaneously values diversity of thought and experience and collaborates freely across functions, hierarchies, and traditional corporate boundaries.
  4. CIOs who focus their energy and attention on strategic business objectives and pursuits.

Our interviews found the sparkling spirit of IT innovation coursing through many CIOSE companies, which we explore in two segments in Outward Bound. The first discusses shifts in the CIO role as enterprise strategy becomes saturated in technology. The second combs the ashes of abandoned practices and sifts the seeds of new growth. Challenges and opportunities abound across sectors.