Originally posted on my LinkedIn profile under the title “IT Leaders Must Change to Meet the Future,” September 22, 2016.
I have just returned home from two business trips in recent weeks – the Smart Water Summit and Disaster Recovery Journal’s Fall World – and next month will be attending my seventh year in a row of Gartner Symposium (marketed as the “world’s largest gathering of CIOs and IT leaders”). Symposium is like a Woodstock for Geeks, as some of the brightest analytical minds gather to talk about technology trends and the technology and operational challenges these leaders face. The theme last year was “Rise to the Challenge” as analysts were talking to CIOs and IT leaders about the skills, tools, and mindsets the need to move into a digital future. This year they are promising to tie together that last several years to give a clear vision of what they have been trying to communicate, through the theme “Lead 360. Drive Digital to the Core”. As my thoughts are focused on Disaster Recovery, Business Continuity, and especially Cybersecurity and its ever-growing threat landscape, I find myself also reflecting on past Symposiums and considering what IT leaders are faced with and how we need to change to take on the challenges in this brave new world.
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
We are surrounded by connected technology both at work and home. Security breaches are all too common headline news, which threaten our personal and financial information. It is not a matter of “If” it will happen, but rather “When“; and it is not just an IT problem, but rather an enterprise problem which IT leaders must convey. At work we deal with legacy applications while trying to keep up with the changing technology landscape. What are these IT leaders to do to stay current? CIOs and IT leaders need more than just technical acumen. What are those skills, tools, and mindsets they need to move into a digital future?
The Top 5 barriers to Innovation have really remained constant: The lack of skilled resources, funding, enterprise culture, misalignment of IT and the business, and legacy challenges. IT leaders face these challenges daily, and must become creative to overcome them. CIOs must lead organizations that are able to be Guardians who look out for threats and provide security; Operators who deal with digital disruption and keep the lights on; and an Innovators who can transform the business. Big challenges to overcome, indeed!
But innovation can be hard to achieve when the relationship between IT and the business units has changed. IT used to control 70% of the technology budget. By 2017, it is expected that only 50% of that budget will be under IT control. Is that bad? Not necessarily, but IT needs to have a strong relationship with the business units to be able to influence the direction of that spend. Look to Business Relationship Managers (BRMs) to develop that trust and help yield that influence. They can ensure IT’s technology initiatives connect with the business’ strategy, and that business value is achieved.
IT leaders need to have a whole toolbox of skills to deal with the changing technology landscape and working with the C-suite. These leaders are looked to for stability and safety and for driving technology changes. They need to be:
- Resilient – IT should act like an intelligence officer and not a police officer. They need to detect threats and respond to them.
- Strategic Thinkers – Know the questions to ask to get you where you need to go. Strategic thinking provides a framework for leaders to focus and provide guidance. Leaders need followers. And they need resources who can be challenged to think as well, rather than just following blindly along.
- Visionaries – They have intuition and imagination and they can solve complex problems in unusual ways.
- Transparent – Leaders must be visible, explain the “why” explicitly, and demonstrate cultural values implicitly.
- Engaging – Request and expect CEO involvement, as they are directly interested in changes to the business. Engage employees and ask questions. Engage the business so you can influence their point of view. Even spend time with competitors to drive industry changes.
- Cultural Change Agents – The CIO has to focus on changing organizational culture in order to be successful at bimodal or any digital change.
A leader is not a leader without followers or a vision. Use strategic thinking to develop your vision and plan, as well as to empower your team. Use BRMs to help build relationships with the business and communicate the vision. Sharpen the tools in your kit, so you can be that Guardian, Operator, or Innovator with a strategic plan for the business’ digital transformation. By adapting our own skills and mindsets, IT leaders can shape the organization’s future and face the challenges ahead.
Are you doing something to take on a new challenge?