CIO Leadership: Revolutionary or Steward
As previously published in CIO Journal from The Wall Street Journal:
Balancing the demands of bold leadership with the never-ending responsibilities of systems stewardship may be harder than you think.
With enterprise collaboration, mobility, social software and the cloud on everyone’s mind, the technology agenda has become the business agenda. For CIOs who want a seat at the strategy table, today’s business environment offers a golden opportunity to introduce fundamentally disruptive IT capabilities, shake up business models and transform the way business is done.
But making this happen takes a revolutionary, not a steward of the status quo. It also takes time, a precious commodity among CIOs these days. “You don’t have to take on all of these new challenges at once,” says Matt Law, a principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP. “But if you don’t start rethinking your approach to the role of the CIO, well, someone else will.”
Yet, before you decide to become a revolutionary CIO, we should examine what that means. What do revo¬lutionaries actually do? They challenge the rules, upset the status quo, lead the charge, overthrow the king – all in the name of the greater good, ideally. Leading CIOs who oversee business transformation programs have been taking this stance for years.
The problem with applying battlefield metaphors to a CIO’s actual responsibilities is that even the boldest leader can never be free of the quotidian burdens of IT stewardship. When companies invest in transformative new technologies, they still expect their CIOs to fight the same old battle of controlling costs in traditional IT service areas.
All of which leads to the puzzle many revolutionary CIOs must solve: How to ramp up in areas like mobility, business analytics, cloud computing and social software, while towing the line in existing service areas. “No matter how you describe it, the CIO’s job is to find the right balance between controls and controlling, between leading and supporting – and to recognize when it’s time to put your back to the wheel to keep everything on track,” observes Chuck Dean, a director with Deloitte Consulting.
You can’t have one without the other
Right now, business is in the middle of a relatively new technology cycle, one featuring such potentially beneficial solutions as the cloud, social business applications and others. To stay competitive, it is vital that companies integrate the disruptive benefits of these tools into the fabric of IT.
Yet, according to Dean, it is important that CIOs time these implementations in support of a broader business strategy.
“Consider CIOs in the retail industry,” he says. “In the current economic environment, retailers are keeping costs at a minimum, while also preparing to make their moves with new technologies when the time is right. That means retail CIOs must keep finding ways to squeeze more value out of existing investments and making make sure their companies are prepared to support the new operating models enabled by the technology.” In this sector, Dean says, ongoing stewardship lays the foundation for future technological innovations.
For CIOs, the relationship between the stewardship and leadership roles is much more than a question of competing demands, says Russ Smariga, specialist leader with Deloitte Consulting. Rather, the two roles are somewhat symbiotic.
To illustrate this point, Smariga tells of a CIO who was chosen for the job specifically for his business acumen and stewardship capabilities. Over the course of his first three years in the seat, he drove more than 40 percent of the cost out of the company’s annual IT spend while maintaining existing service levels, deploying new services and increasing user satisfaction from 68 percent to 92 percent. Smariga says that during the next two years, this CIO had the opportunity to drive long term corporate strategy by bringing creative new business-enabling ideas to the table.
“There’s a clear need for CIOs to be revolutionary leaders,” Smariga says. “But there’s a caveat – CIOs must have a proven ability to run an organization that maintains existing services and works to optimize them in terms of cost and performance. If they haven’t demonstrated the ability to be a steward, they probably won’t be given the opportunity to be a revolutionary.”