Long gone are the days when the CIO's primary role was to simply help 'Keep the Lights On'. Thanks to the value they demonstrate in identifying opportunities for improving organizational efficiencies and for leveraging technology to attack new business opportunities, CIOs today are now more widely viewed as a trusted business partner to the CEO and as a key strategic contributor to the executive team.
This helps explain why four out of five CIOs believe their role has increased in importance over the last five years and why their ability to contribute to corporate strategy is now deemed as their most important skill, according to 2018 research conducted by Forbes Insights with Intel and VMware.
"One of the main roles for the CIO today is to continue to build awareness and education around opportunities that the CEO, CFO and other CXOs may not be aware of," said Jamie Cutler, VP & CIO at QEP Resources, Inc., an environmentally safe energy drilling company in Denver, CO. "One of the main aspects of a CIO's job now is to share opportunities with the C-suite for applying technology to drive market results, improve competitive positioning and to generate cost savings."
Cutler is an advisory board member for the 2018 Denver CIO Executive Leadership Summit that will take place on September 6 at The Ritz-Carlton Denver.
Today's CIO also must demonstrate fearless leadership in clearly communicating to his or her peers which initiatives are viable - and which ones aren't.
"The CIO needs to be a trusted advisor to the executive team," said Matt Mehlbrech, VP, IT at CoorsTek, Inc. "Because at the end of the day, virtually all process improvements or initiatives involve IT these days. The CIO must guide and steer what makes the most sense and make execution a reality."
One way to forge close partnerships with members of the C-suite is by opening a dialogue with organizational leaders to understand what their top business issues are. "When I was Director of IT Operations at ClickBank, our marketing officer mentioned how we were struggling with sales revenue in Australia," said Mark A. Hellbusch, MBA, CISSP and Information Security Officer at GBprotect. "After conducting research on the causes behind this, I discovered that it was taking 8 seconds for our U.S. web page to load in Australia. We cut the time by more than half and revenue immediately jumped by 8% and it never faltered."
The point of the story, said Hellbusch, is the importance of talking to various business unit leaders about their initiatives and concerns rather than asking how IT can help them.
"This changes the conversation," said Hellbusch. "If you really want to drive change and help them out, drive the conversation based on their point of view."
Meanwhile, another way to gain credibility with the executive team is by streamlining operations to free up IT resources to devote more time to value-added activities.
For instance, when David Bessen stepped in as CIO at Arapahoe County (CO) Government six-plus years ago, the IT organization was in the early stages of heading down the virtualization path.
"Now, we're 90%+ virtualized," said Bessen. "Making this transition has helped us to reduce day-to-day maintenance work which freed up staff to focus on other things. Creating this stability has helped to establish the credibility of our IT organization and to gain trust. Now, we can pursue innovation opportunities because we're not putting out fires all the time."
As Bart Waress, Vice President of IT at Discovery Natural Resources sees it, the CIO should act as the harmonizer within the executive team.
"The CIO sees all aspects of the organization and should share that vision and communicate the opportunities to the executive team," said Waress. "We should be the great unifier, not pointing out what is wrong but what is possible. And where we can add value to those opportunities is really important."
To learn more about the upcoming 2018 Denver CIO Executive Leadership Summit and to register for the event, click here.