Long live the “new CIO” – but don’t forget the lessons from the past

We do indeed live in interesting times. The pace of change and the new opportunities available as enabled by digital technologies are exciting to say the least. It is absolutely great to see the transformative capabilities of these newer technologies and the resulting positive and meaningful impacts to businesses and society at large. However, I must admit that I do smile somewhat when I read some of the headlines and postings that definitively boast that digital disruption has already happened as if it is now over and that the required CIO leadership qualities are completely new and revolutionary.

Well, while it is certainly true that CIOs who operate as “luddites” and focus mainly on the technology leadership side of their responsibilities to the detriment of their business leadership responsibilities are dinosaurs; that has been a reality for some time now. CIOs who have been and continue to be the most successful tend to be just like any other C- suite executive with overall enterprise leadership responsibilities, which translates into primarily focusing on business strategy development and execution. Of course, they also have the job of ensuring the productive leverage of both existing and newer digital technologies, which truly can be a differentiator for the business.

This means that those successful CIOs are not spending their time mainly on internal back of house activities, but instead are actively engaged with their customers, peers, subordinates and strategic suppliers in constantly finding new ways to improve both business effectiveness and efficiency. This means letting go of some of the traditional way of doing business and being open to new possibilities. At the same time, it also means realizing that CIOs never lose primary executive leadership accountability for IT operations and the corresponding service levels, so they build organizational structures and third party relationships that make those things happen but without the need for their direct oversight and hands-on involvement.

The “new CIO” communicates in the language of the business, not techno speak. These CIOs are not afraid to challenge the status quo. They are current on the latest trends and directions in their industries and have an awareness of external threats and opportunities. They are comfortable in dealing with the ever increasing complexity of technology infrastructures and the related regulatory and legal requirements, while also being able to simplify and focus on the essence of any issues. They understand that positive user experiences and appropriate data security and protection measures are givens in today’s world. They operate in an agile and flexible environment, but also understand that structure and processes are necessary to ensure consistent quality and predictable results.

The “new CIO” does not forget the lessons from the past and, in fact, respects and values those things that may have been painfully learned so that the actions that they take today and tomorrow in support of the ongoing digital transformation agenda can be enhanced and amplified for all the key stakeholders. They understand that their ultimate success is dependent on building bridges between the past, present and future. Long live the “new CIO”!

Gary Davenport, President of the CIO Association of Canada