We’re living in a time of accelerated change. Even Bill Gates, a pioneer of technology innovation, has commented that “Innovation is moving at a scarily fast pace.”

True, perhaps. But the pace of innovation is also creating unparalleled opportunities for executives and entrepreneurs to invent new business models and to apply emerging technologies and techniques to unleash new waves of productivity and competitive differentiation – through new product development, the creation of customer-centric strategies, or by other methods.

Undoubtedly, the CIO plays a crucial role in enabling the enterprise to achieve its innovative potential through the unification of people, processes, and technology. When the CIO is regarded as an enabler.

Fifty-four percent of non-IT executives in a recent CIOnet poll see IT as an obstacle for getting things done. There’s a perception among some executives that it takes far too long to get new business/technology projects approved and ushered into the enterprise IT project pipeline. This apprehension helps explain the steady rise in the use of rogue IT services by business units outside of the purview of the CIO over the past several years.

Clearly, IT shouldn’t hinder business initiatives. Some CIOs who have wrestled with these issues have recognized the need to make changes – both in the way the IT organization operates and with respect to their own respective leadership styles.

Evaluating IT/business alignment

A good starting point for addressing these challenges is by taking a step back and evaluating how effectively IT and the business work together. Does the business respect the IT organization? Is there a culture of collaboration and transparency between the two groups? Does the CEO encourage and foster cooperation between IT and the business? After all, a CIO can’t successfully make any changes that may be needed unless he or she has a candid understanding of the current state of the state and the issues that need to be addressed.

Another way to gain insight on these challenges is by talking to trusted business colleagues and asking them whether IT is viewed as hindrance by other organizational leaders. Frank discussions like these can often provide clarity not only regarding how the IT organization is perceived but also in exposing process or cultural gaps in the IT-business relationship that the CIO may not be aware of.

In some cases, CIOs and business leaders need to work more closely together in the planning process. Here, the CIO can work closely with business peers to ensure that the right structure is in place that enables the business to have new initiatives acted on quickly. In addition, the CIO can and should take an active role in aligning business expectations up front so that there are no surprises from either side should a business technology project fail to deliver on its anticipated goals.

Ultimately, it’s about tearing down “us versus them” silos that may exist between IT and the business and for the CIO to take a leadership role in guiding these efforts. What additional leadership qualities can the CIO bring to bear to position the IT organization as an enabler?