Why CIOs Must Stay Relevant and How to Do So

CIOs have earned a seat at the table now that technology has moved away from a utility function to a driver of business goals. However, technology is always changing and innovations like shadow IT are threatening shift the tide back again. Now that companies can use an almost endless number third-party technologies to get the job done, CIOs must stay relevant and prove their business value to other members of the leadership team.

Strategist First, Technologist Second

The key to relevancy is understanding one key principle. Jim Cole, Senior VP at Hitachi Consulting recently told CIO magazine, “The role of the CIO remains relevant to the extent that they are strategists first, technologists second.”

Technology leaders must focus their energies and efforts on strategically enabling business goals with flexibility and agility. The value of a CIO is not in the role of a systems architect, but in their ability to handle critical strategic initiatives that impact the entire organization.

How Can CIOs Make The Shift?

A large piece of the puzzle involves letting go. Many CIOs are used to making choices about the technologies that business units adopt. As the keeper of the technology purse strings, every application and system decision has historically required CIO signoff. Using data protection and information security as justifications for control may have worked in the past, but attitudes are shifting. Instead, CIOs should focus on understanding why shadow IT services are in demand, and what needs to be done in order to get the best value out of those systems.

CIO residence to Software as a Service and other technologies makes sense. After all, leadership careers are not built on subscribing to cloud technologies. However, business units need SaaS and other systems in order to meet their own goals. When Salesforce burst onto the scene, companies flocked to it because their internal IT departments could not build out a proprietary CRM that offered the same benefits.

Embracing shadow IT sounds like a sure path to obsolescence, rather than relevancy, but it’s really a matter of shifting priorities. Rather than hanging on to legacy systems and controlling and securing everything from the IT department, the IT department now uses modern technologies and shared responsibility with outside providers. Thus, the focus becomes on managing business risk, rather than technology risk.

Keepers of The Success Map

Relevant CIOs must become the keepers of the roadmap to IT success. They must work with business units that wish to subscribe to SaaS and then build it into the overarching strategy and business plan. Furthermore, they must develop strategic partnerships to facilitate policies and enable support services.

Cole says there is more to it than that. To stay relevant a CIO has to orchestrate a complex blend of “best of” applications, technologies, and platforms – as well as providing “reasonable guardrails” when it comes to security, risk, and consistency, he says.

The writing is on the wall. Companies have a near unquenchable thirst for SaaS, and CIOs that are unable to adapt to the new model of enterprise computing will ultimately lose the battle and fade into irrelevance.

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