Keep Your C-seat: Be the Transformed CIO
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Keep Your C-seat: Be the Transformed CIO

Bill Thirsk, VP, IT & CIO, Marist College
Bill Thirsk, VP, IT & CIO, Marist College

Bill Thirsk, VP, IT & CIO, Marist College

The disruption that is occurring across all markets is forcing CIOs to decide whether they want their career to thrive–or dive. As markets change, most legacy modes of operation are being commoditized or retired, and new and better technologies are available at reasonable costs. Everything the CIO once did is still necessary and important, but organizational imperatives for technology have changed. The tried and true mantra of ‘available and reliable’ still resonates, but it is not transformational, and only transformational leaders are welcome in today’s C-suite.

The current skill sets and traits that CIOs possess will still serve them well as they morph into their new career roles. Leadership characteristics are universal across most enterprises. Successful CIOs already possess the important characteristics of technical prowess, some amount of charisma, the authority to take action, and the willingness to take risks. These skills are required for entry into the boardroom, but there is now a baseline requirement that is new to the CIO portfolio to remain in the C-suite, and that is to create demand and make new markets.

New technologies and business models have changed almost everything about how we access, select, buy, relate, and engage. We all have more friends than we thought, and world events perpetually scroll by us as they occur. The most popular platforms are valuable only because users have created the content. Yellow ties, bright white shirts, and dark suits have been replaced by open blue collars, sport jackets, and jeans. Booksellers have become hosting services (Amazon), computer companies have become music publishers (Apple), and a printer of playing cards quickly morphed into a digital entertainment company (Nintendo). Behind the success of each of these transformations were dreamers, strategists, coders, managers, and marketers. In each case, conventional wisdom had to be cast aside to invent new ways to create and capture consumer value. All of them required a change in the use of technology.

 Everything the CIO once did is still necessary and important, but organizational imperatives for technology have changed

Most CIOs have within them and around them everything they need to transform themselves into creators of value and makers of new markets in which to ‘sell’ their services. This is because at the core of traditional systems management is the need for orchestration, integration, information security, and extensibility. With the emergence of social, mobile, analytics, hybrid cloud, and digital technologies, the same concepts’ capabilities must be leveraged, but by using new methods and different tools. CIOs who intend to hold their position or move upward in their career tracks must take the time to learn about the new tools, new methods, and the new workforce.

The IT staff today is motivated and must be managed differently than yesterday’s employees. The rapid changes of CEO expectations, consumer demands, workforce profiles, and within the uses of technology, are widespread, and the need to adapt quickly is unyielding, wide-ranging, and simultaneous. Just as you are taking a personal risk by stepping into new territory, understand you must also rally your team to support you and the organization by taking on new challenges themselves. As a leader, it is necessary to move your team with you to create the best chance for success. Perhaps you have talented staff members that can transition with you to become an interaction designer, cyber technologist, mobile analytics specialist, scrum master, or multi-platform architect.

New skill sets that a CIO should learn or sharpen include a deeper understanding of sales, customer spending habits, and enterprise finance. Enrolling in an executive MBA course or taking advantage of professional development opportunities can provide perspective and awareness of the current marketplace. Also, begin to network with different peers such as chief digital officers, cloud service executives, and non-traditional technology leaders. Those CIOs who engage in personal retooling and introspective reassessment are more likely to reinvent themselves to capitalize on new opportunities. The successful CIO of tomorrow will be viewed as the expert with whom others consult when they are moving into unknown territory that may have a technological component.

It is important for CIOs to understand that their C-level peers are also likely to feel that their traditional roles are being disrupted as well. Try to imagine what each of your colleagues is experiencing and start discussing the value you and your organization can provide to them. Offer to ‘partner up’ to co-develop a road map to mutual success.

The bottom line for CIOs that want to thrive in a changing world is to use the traits they have developed over the years and ditch the idea of protecting the legacy turf of systems and platforms. Strategically replace a diminishing portfolio by using updated tools and skill sets to create, offer, and sustain value. Become an organizational executive who exploits available technologies on behalf of your enterprise, not just a manager who runs organizational technology.

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