How to maximize your CIO impact: Lessons from MITCIO 2017

By Christopher Crummey

The role of the CIO continues to evolve as rapid digital transformation increases the demands on the role, with talent shortages and budget limitations. A great CIO can elevate an organization to new heights, while a weak CIO can hold it back. The 2017 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium was encompassed in a single quote shared by George Westerman, co-chair of the MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award: ‘There’s never been a better time to be a great CIO, and there’s never been a worse time to be an average one.’ The sessions shared a common theme: “it’s time to act like a startup.” Large enterprises, like DBS, GE, Salesforce, IBM and BNY Mellon are getting closer to the customer by adopting a rapid development culture.

I was fortunate enough to participate in a panel titled, “Running IT Like a Factory,” where several other executives and I shared our experiences and perspectives on how to modernize IT in a way that supports speed and quality throughout an organization. Over the course of the symposium, I noticed a number of trends affecting the current role of CIOs and how this position drives innovation for businesses.

Jim Fowler, VP and CIO, General Electric, advised CIOs, “you have to have a North Star direction for where you want to go.” General Electric is transforming how to help customers get more out of assets. Dave Gledhill, CIO of DBS, is eliminating wait time for customers and hosting hackathons to infiltrate innovation across the company. BNY Mellon’s Head of Client Experience Delivery and Global Innovation, Lucille Mayer, is reaching for her “North Star” by entitling more services to customers at scale with APIs. Speakers all agreed: transformation requires a “maniacal mindset” on what the customer needs.

When asked if CIOs are “running IT like a factory” they said, “no.” Yet, acting like a startup to most means organizing differently to churn out digital capabilities. The differentiator? Culture. Dave Gledhill said it best, “have people experience what a startup feels like and bring that back to the workplace.”

Overhaul the culture first

A common theme of many conversations was amplifying the role of workplace culture in spearheading change. An organization’s culture needs to be adapted to the changing needs of CIOs as well as the multidisciplinary function of this executive position. The CIO impact is not limited to technology. Technology now affects all aspects of a company’s operation, which means CIOs have their hands in virtually every department. A top-down culture change requires embracing agility, iterative development, frequent testing, and KPI measurement — not just for IT teams, but for the entire company.

CIOs should also advocate for more collaborative teams within an organization, partnering with business unit leaders outside of IT. The CMO is a great example of how these partnerships can work. With marketing leaning so heavily on a variety of technologies to meet their organizational goals, it makes sense for the CMO to have a relationship with the CIO.

Culture change to improve experiences isn’t limited to large behemoths. Startups have no constraint of thought and no issue with asking others to collaborate. At Salesforce, for example, no topic is off limits and a CEO-generated forum gives executives a vehicle for collaborating around important topics.

Similarly, IBM is working to change culture based on a few guiding principles including making culture tangible by operationalizing leadership, collaboration and delivery practices. Chris Crummey, Executive Director IBM Security X-Force, shared how IBM is acting like a start-up by organizing talent in ‘two pizza’ teams – splitting 20,000 employees to 35 domains with 17 direct reports. By doing this, IBM launched critical workforce solutions such as the Mac@IBM, Box@IBM, and new Windows-based PC@IBM programs.

Speak the language of the business, and agree on KPIs

Throughout the Symposium, conversations kept returning to the need for CIOs to understand and align with the larger business model. CIOs play a critical role in helping organizations navigate digital disruption, which requires them to have a strong knowledge of the specific business and industry, beyond merely the IT side of operations.

To ensure everyone is on the same page with these changes, CIOs should offer guidance on establishing KPIs that reflect organizational success and are understood by everyone in the company. These KPIs will play an important role in keeping all departments on the same page and aligned with the company’s larger mission.

Build a robust plan for the future

This planning does not limit itself to IT functions. Speakers at the Symposium emphasized the need for a strong plan paired with reliable KPIs and balanced against the company’s needs, it’s worth noting the CIOs receiving awards at MITCIO had significant roles in helping their companies drive transformation.

Blockchain remains an unknown opportunity

CIOs generally regard blockchain as an important technology, but it isn’t as clear how organizations should use it. Blockchain offers unmatched value as a digital ledger, but it can provide more. Organizations recognize blockchain can help them reduce costs and operate with greater efficiency, affecting not just financial matters but also supply chain management, manufacturing operations, aviation technologies and more. Despite this clear potential, many CIOs are still looking for the perfect way to leverage blockchain for their own company’s interests. It’s considered a necessary tool, but its application remains uncertain. According to DMR, the global blockchain market is expected to be worth $20 billion by 2024.

The IoT combines the roles of the CTO and CIO

The IoT is a massive opportunity that will eventually overtake the cloud and infiltrate every nook and cranny of business. Business Insider predicts that total business spending on IoT solutions will reach $6 trillion by 2021. According to IBM’s mobile and emerging technologies survey of global executives completed in March 2017, IoT is one of the most popular emerging technologies used amongst global executives for both internal and external purposes. Companies would do themselves a great disservice by failing to plan for the IoT as a tool to accelerate their own transformations. Achieving this transformation with the IoT will require a close working relationship between the CTO and CIO, which ties back to other conversations about the need to overhaul workplace culture. CIOs can’t work in isolation if they’re expected to help their businesses adapt to digital disruptions.

The high demand of CIOs

It may be an obvious statement, but as the spotlight on the CIO role grows, businesses are taking even more aggressive approaches to finding strong executives who can oversee transformation on many different fronts. These organizations know the CIO will have a tremendous impact on the future of the company.

By the end, CIOs walked away from the Symposium wondering whether they’ve truly been underestimating the scale of change and disruption on the horizon. They now have to choose which digital capabilities they’ll pursue, develop the business to support the company’s customers and foster innovation. These are tough decisions every CIO will have to face when choosing how to prioritize transformation.

This article was originally published on Mobile Business Insights.