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How Today’s CIOs Can Turn Challenges into Opportunities

Top CIOs embody a more expansive role, while they also know the art of bypassing fatigue, believe experts.


“There’s never been a better time to be a great CIO, and there’s never been a worse time to be an average one.” The adage, coined by MIT research scientist George Westerman, aptly captures the intense pressure on CIOs or Chief Information Officers who are constantly struggling to remain at the top of the league. The challenge however is that although CIOs are becoming more strategic and accountable, they are under tremendous stress and pressure with reduced budgets and higher security, according to a recent Global CIO Survey from Logicalis, a global provider of IT solutions. Hence they should adopt global best practices to understand and adopt how top CIOs embody a more expansive role, while they also know the art of bypassing fatigue.

The study, which surveyed nearly 900 CIOs from around the world, including India, reveals that half of respondents (48%) say that their time spent on security defenses has increased in the last year, with CIOs spending 25% of their time on information and security compliance. The maintenance of technology remains a key aspect of the CIOs role, with CIOs on average, spending one-third (33%) of their time focused on day-to-day management of technology.

“Businesses are pushing their CIOs to understand more about the line of business and input on strategy, whilst CIOs are still under pressure carrying out day-to-day activities. Clearly, this needs to be addressed,” explains Mark Rogers, CEO at Logicalis. Nonetheless, he says, “CIOs are now expected to be responsible for business performance at a strategic level which has added to the time that they are expected to spend on maintaining IT infrastructure.”

Unfortunately, the increased strain is having a negative impact on CIOs’ enjoyment of their job. Almost half of CIOs (49%) believe their job satisfaction has decreased in the last 12 months, while 29% say their work/life balance has worsened. The expanded focus on strategy and revenue has had an impact on the amount of time CIOs are able to spend on innovation, with 30% saying it has decreased in the last 12 months.

But there are many happy CIOs out there too. As Rogers explains, organizations that ensure their CIO is fully supported and has the necessary resources to carry out their job effectively are certainly the luckier ones. Top CIOs, often referred to as the ‘transformative CIOs’ have a new set of skills and capabilities, and they embody a more expansive role, while they also know the art of bypassing fatigue.

Turning challenges into opportunities

In its recent findings from an IT strategy survey, McKinsey researchers reveal some of the key traits of top CIOs who know how to turn challenges into opportunities and are driving organizational success.

  1. Chalk out a business strategy

To help technology generate business value, top CIOs involve themselves with shaping the business strategy and agenda, and strong performance on core IT tasks enables faster progress against a company’s digital goals. As the study shows, top CIOs go far beyond meeting with the C-suite or attending strategy meetings. They invest time with functional and business-unit leaders and managers to gain an in-depth understanding of business realities on the ground and go out of their way to develop a detailed understanding of customer issues.

  1. Get on boards

The best of CIOs often extend their networks beyond the organization. One of the best ways to do that is by joining the board of another company. As per McKinsey researchers, one-third of the boards of companies within the Fortune 500 today include a former CIO or CTO, and that number continues to increase.

  1. Become a change agent

Experts believe, a full technology transformation is not about moving to the cloud or embracing new IT solutions. It also involves infusing technology into every strategy discussion and process throughout the organization. To keep pace with rapid technological advancements, top CIOs focus on tech-enabled products and business models, integrate tech management across organizational silos, protect systems through advanced cybersecurity and deliver excellent user experiences.

  1. Scout for the right talent

Skills gap is often seen as the top obstacle to a successful digital transformation and one of CIOs biggest headaches in the tech team. So the most popular CIOs focus not just on recruiting top people but also on retaining them. By hiring the best tech people, we’ve seen companies reduce their technology costs by as much as 30% while maintaining or improving their productivity, the researchers note. The head of technology and analytics at a large retail organization set up a talent war room to hire data scientists and engineers by using different talent sources, such as Hackathons and contests. Top CIOs are also a pro in retraining the existing workforce by launching an effective talent strategy and building a culture that supports talent.

  1. Act as a tech translator

In the past, IT transformations have often proven expensive, time consuming, and short on value, and this has made some companies leery of undertaking them again. To address this issue and build trust, the best CIOs play an active role in educating other board members about technologies and their applications for the business.

“Many tech decisions don’t get sufficient business scrutiny beyond cost and high-level strategy discussions. It is essential to make the business implications of technology decisions clear,” says the CIO of a retail firm, who presents periodically to the board on technology-led business models with the full consent of the CEO.

6. Maintain Some White Space on Your Calendar

Steve Phillpott, CIO at hard drive manufacturer Western Digital Corporation, in a recent article recommends taking a break from technology for a few minutes every now and again rather than gritting your teeth with your job without relent.

In other words, go on a vacation. “Carve out some time for reflection,” says leadership coach Mike Hawkins. He believes, when relaxed, your brain is free to unleash its power. To ensure your vacation is stress-free, create and communicate a straightforward plan for your team that sets expectations and covers the ‘what ifs’ and ‘must dos’ while you’re out as nobody’s indispensable.

While in an increasingly tech-driven business landscape, top CIOs are seen as legitimate partners to lead businesses functions – a measure that they have already risen from the day to day job of keeping the lights on. While success and stress would go hand in hand, CIOs who are looking to drive organizational success should well remember the famous saying of Albert Einstein: “The leader is one who, out of the clutter, brings simplicity… out of discord, harmony… and out of difficulty, opportunity.”

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