Martha Heller is President of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive recruiting firm specializing in CIO, CTO and senior technology roles across all industries, and author of the book, The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership.
UnboundID: Recently, you wrote about IT consumers and how CIOs need to convert them into investment partners. How should a CIO view the IT consumer versus the external consumer?
Heller: First let me set the stage a little bit. Back in the ‘70s, IT was a mainframe.No one really cared about it and only a couple of people had a key to the room where the mainframe was housed.
Over time, IT installed some big systems that a few people in the company used, like finance and operations. Fast-forward to today and everyone is a consumer of IT. Employees are using all the tools all the time. It’s been such a rapid revolution in the adoption of technology that IT has never had the opportunity to evolve into a comfortable integration with the rest of the business. That has now led to shadow IT and all these weird notions. That’s not healthy, when people are going behind the CIO’s back. CIOs should be responsible for driving adoption of technology across the business. It’s interesting that finance has developed a good relationship with the business, but not IT. A related problem is that IT departments now have every skill set under the sun. When something becomes everything, is it anything? Companies are working hard to redefine IT and determine its operating model.
UnboundID: What is the CIO’s relationship with customers?
Heller: There is a drastic difference between how CIOs should treat internal versus external customers. First, they don’t really have internal customers anymore. It’s not just about serving employees but about everyone working together. The concept instead is, for the CIO to say, we are all business partners serving the external customer and together we are helping the business drive productivity. Similarly, the IT budget doesn’t belong to IT, but to the company. Therefore, IT must make decisions together with the business on that spending.
UnboundID: How is this mind shift changing the IT organizational and operating structure?
Heller: In any company, there are people who decide the products and strategies for growing the business. Then there are the operations people who decide how to get it done. Traditionally, CIOs have belonged to that latter group. Yet today, when faced with needing to help drive digital strategy, many CIOs are moving away from strictly enabling operations to setting the strategy. That doesn’t mean they don’t think about the operations side because obviously there are still significant help desk and application management needs in a large company. Yet CIOs are spending more time leading and partnering. That shift is what has led to this notion of bi-modal IT, where you have one group that runs the business and the other that leads direction. My question is, why don’t you have two technology organizations? This might just be an intermediary stage.
UnboundID: What about some of the new job roles today such as Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Digital Officer, or VP of Customer Experience? Do these roles suggest that the entrenched executive – the CIOs and VPs of Sales and Marketing –can’t adapt with the times?
Heller: A CIO once said to me: “When the CEO hires a Chief Digital Officer, that’s a good sign that the CIO doesn’t get along well with the CMO.” My feeling is that these are transitional roles while IT and the business work on how to better integrate. Why should one person be responsible for digital or innovation? Digital almost means nothing now–because it means everything. I often see the title of Chief Digital Officer in marketing departments. Yet what about enabling digital innovation in other parts of the business, such as R&D and supply chain? I believe that the CIO should own innovation in concert with the business, and he/she should have lieutenants to help lead different pieces of that, such as social media or e-commerce.
UnboundID: In that light, how can a CIO gain clout with his or her company, especially in terms of meeting the big push to improve customer experiences through digital and omni-channel?
Heller: First, the CIO needs to hire a killer CTO to run the business operations side of IT. A company really needs to throw money at that role because these individuals are expensive and extremely hard to find. Secondly, those IT employees with roles that interface between IT and other functions such as marketing, sales or product development, need tremendous communication skills. These people are often called business relationship executives but really, they are becoming management consultants. Their job is not to merely say to the business, “what do you need,” but to offer advice on how they can be more successful and to weed out the pain points. It is a technology advisory role which begins with having a purely strategic business conversation, and then offering ideas as to how IT can help. These people are becoming extremely important because they are creating the opportunities for IT. Third, the CIO has to step up and have a strategy and a point of view. He or she needs to own the outcomes of business investments. That’s a much more risky stance than saying, what do you want? Shifting from being an enabler to a leader is a whole different ballgame.
UnboundID: Some companies, like Nordstrom, are doing a great job of delighting their customers year after year. How can the CIO help their companies become the kind of company that customers really love?
Heller: CIOs who provide data analytics on customers can help marketing, customer service and product development leaders understand what their customers want. CIOs who have teams in IT that work directly with external customers can represent the voice of the customer to the executive committee. CIOs who understand social media and how to mine it for new service and product ideas improve the customer experience. CIOs who make all of their technology decisions by starting with the customer are more likely to delight them than those who think about technology first.
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