CIO Award Winners: what does it take?

In a world where negative stories about IT project failures seem to dominate the top headlines, it is great to be able to celebrate CIO successes. As one of the tools to help benchmark their organization’s progress and to provide some public recognition of their teams’ triumphs, progressive CIOs leverage the use of industry award programs, such as ITAC’s Ingenious Awards or the Canadian CIO of the Year Award which were recently presented this past November.

A few years ago, my team and I were recognized with the winning of five industry IT awards in a 12 month period, which was very gratifying for all concerned. Since that time, I have had the opportunity to serve as a judge to review literally dozens of submissions for various related CIO and IT awards. On balance, many of these submissions have been quite good, while others have left room for some improvement. So exactly what does it take to become an award winner?

The first thing to recognize is that cutting costs, improving services levels and delivering major projects all comes with the turf for CIOs. As a result, there is nothing particularly special or notable with any of those activities in and of themselves. However, based on my experience, when a CIO is able to distinguish their award submissions from the rest, it is usually based on the following characteristics:

Innovative – CIOs who are able to effectively exploit the potential of newer digital technologies to drive value creation are always more interesting. Of course, these technologies are constantly changing and today run the gambit of cloud computing, big data, mobility and social networking. The challenge and the opportunity here is how best to have these newer technologies come together to work with older existing technologies to make the experience differentiated and seamless.
Bold – There is an old adage of “nothing ventured, nothing gained”. CIOs who are prepared to take some calculated risks are more likely to put themselves in a position to be considered as deserving recognition. This does not imply taking undue risks for the sake of being considered for an award, but rather that those submissions where risk is clearly one of the elements to be managed, tend to get more attention from the judges than those that keep to the path already “well-traveled”.
Impactful – Initiatives that have a very clear articulation of the actual benefits achieved with a positive ROI are infinitely better positioned than those that have vague or general statements related to the original objectives. In fact, it is this one element that often separates the winning submission from the other high-quality entries.
Recognized – While it is great to have the CIO as part of the award submission process, it is even better to have the endorsement of the CEO and other C level peers as to the business value and organizational impact. On the other hand, award submissions that are primarily the creation of a vendor pushing the successful deployment of their own product or service are often discounted as being too much about future “sales”.
The final piece of the puzzle is to ensure that the actual award submission is well written in a concise manner with the key points properly articulated so that the judges can easily understand the context, the objectives, the constraints, the solution approach, the end results and the benefits. In the end, it can be well worth the effort to do so, even if you don’t win an external award, as there is now a documented internal case study demonstrating the value of the organization’s investments in the productive use of digital technologies, which can certainly help the CIO with the next trip to the CFO or the Board of Directors looking for approval of a new investment opportunity.