CIO Lessons Learned and Shared: Strategy Comes First

Over the course of almost three years, a series of 10 blogs were written and published related to my extensive career experiences as a Chief Information Officer (CIO) within the retail and telecom industries and as the President for the CIO Association of Canada (2011 to 2016). The purpose of these blogs was to share my lessons learned to help advance the CIO profession and to also help others who may benefit from these experiences and perspectives. These blogs have been consolidated in this series, CIO Lessons Learned and Shared.


First up for any good CIO is to define their own strategy for moving their organization forward in a productive and positive manner to best leverage the power of digital technologies. While there is no absolutely one right way of accomplishing that, an approach that has been successfully used in the past has consisted of the following steps at a high level:

  • Carefully assess the existing state, paying particular attention to existing hot spots and perceived short comings. This requires reviewing both the capabilities and performance of the IT organization along with the resulting systems, business processes and digital technologies that support and enable the business to actually operate. Basically, you want to know how well they are performing as compared to what is needed and as compared to the competition.
  • If it doesn’t already exist, define and put in place a support organization with the key business areas to ensure the appropriate level of ownership and drive to manage the investments and resulting assets. The strategy needs to be a partnership between the CIO and the other C-level business executives.
  • In collaboration with the key business areas, define the required future state model to support and enable the corporate strategy with the corresponding business capabilities. Also define the high level architecture that will be required and then use it as a roadmap to help manage the transition from “as is” to “to be”.
  • Outline and obtain buy-in to the principles under which decisions will be able to be made on the IT investment and assets so as to facilitate alignment with proper oversight and management.
  • Assess the performance of the existing suppliers and the effectiveness and efficiency of the existing spend. Look for opportunities to streamline to both save money and to reinvest into the future environment. Whenever possible, go with strategic partners that can best get where you need to go.
  • Define the potential initiatives that will be required to deliver the future state along with a clear understanding of the high level requirements, costs, benefits, dependencies and risks.
  • Pull it all together into a living and breathing strategy document and work program that will be reviewed and updated on a regular basis with the inevitable changes that will happen along the way. Don’t forget to celebrate the achievements and accomplishments as you start to implement the plan as success begets success.

The most important thing to remember is that as CIO this is your strategy and responsibility for it should not be delegated to a direct report. This is not a hands off area with minimal oversight, nor is it something that is to be done in the backroom behind closed doors. The success of the CIO, and more importantly, the success of the CIO’s organization is dependent on giving everything one can to make the strategy everything that it needs to be for today and for tomorrow. Shine some light on the strategy and give it the prominence that it really deserves.

Gary Davenport, CIO Mentor and Board Member

Gary has extensive experience as a CIO within a variety of industries running large scale IT operations and delivering many complex digital business transformation initiatives. He has served on numerous CIO councils and not-for-profit Board of Directors and is currently the Past President of the CIO Association of Canada (CIOCAN), a Board member for the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), a Board Advisor for the Canadian Channel Chiefs Council (C4) and the Chair of the Program Advisory Council for the Ted Rogers’ School of Business Information Technology Management program. Gary also provides advisory and CIO services as a management consultant.

When not doing CIO related activities, Gary enjoys traveling, fishing, playing golf and keeping up with his four grandchildren.