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CIOs after the Storm

The big change

The Covid19 pandemic has changed the game for a while, giving CIOs a chance for being recognized as equal partners to the business. According to IDG’s 2020 State of the CIO Report, 95% of Chief Information Officers said that they have been expected to act beyond traditional IT responsibilities.

Will the newly gained glory of the Chief Information Officers remain or is it going to fade away after the Covid19 pandemic is over? How can CIOs make the new status-quo permanent? What happens to the ones who cannot?

Winners and Losers

The role of the Chief Information Officer was dramatically changing even before 2019. Already back in 2018, during an IT Leadership event, before anyone could have had an idea of the upcoming Covid19 pandemic, a futurologist predicted on the stage, that the position of the CIO will be dramatically reduced or even disappear at several companies in the next 5 years.

No matter how proud some CIOs can be about finally being seen as partners in the fight during the pandemic, the glory earned quickly can also fade away rapidly. After being seen as saviors, most of the CIOs still need to deal again with cost cuttings and do daily administration of their information technology systems. I know only a few of them who made the permanent shift to become a real business leader, having a seat with the board at the big table as equal partners. But why?

One of them.

I have quit a sales job for taking over the regional IT organization of a company in Austria when I was 30. As I was first asked to talk about my new IT projects in that position, I knew it could be my big chance to be accepted as one of the senior managers. So, I explained everything what I planned and what I needed: the investments and all the technical stuff. At the end I named the budget. All I got back was confusion because I made one single mistake.

I did not realize, that in reality, one of the the basic aspects of my role did not change at all. I should have still done my sales job, just as I have done before: talking about the benefits in terms of my "clients"​; what I can provide them with, and what value I can offer for the company and for the ones sitting with me in that room.

And indeed, after changing my attitude, it really started working.

Overcoming the Obstacles.

The common education requirements for a CIO include information technology, computer science, software engineering, information systems or a related field. Yet, I know only a few, who have business administration, sales, marketing, communication, or finance backgrounds. Focusing more on these skills, seeking constantly for sales opportunities like entrepreneurs do, by not positioning themselves as administrators help developing and communicating and selling the benefits that CIOs can deliver to the business.

Unfortunately, traditional organizational set-ups – i.e., often putting the CIO under the CFO – does not help much either: usually the CFO has a slightly different target, which does not necessarily entirely support the efforts of a value-based IT organization. So, next to the skillset and the mindset, CIOs need to cope with the challenge of breaking out of the mindset cage of the company's organization.

Prove of the Pudding.

I went through these changes in both ways. Many years ago, as we decided to start selling the services of the corporate IT to the customers of the company: the standing of the entire IT organization improved. The reason for this decision was that we have clearly seen the two options we had: keeping the corporate IT as it is, remaining a costs center within the company; or to transform it to be apart of the value chain as a recognized added value provider to the business.

Even now, after the pandemic, these two choices are still the ones that will decide about expansion or contraction of the corporate IT and of the role of the CIO within.

If a CIO positions his organization taking the first option, his fate is probably sealed: he needs to face with continuous downsizing and cost cutting. His organization will melt and shrink with time. External providers will prevail over, and in the best case he can be the internal broker of their services.

Sustainable growth of the internal IT and the recognition as a partner can come from the second model only, because partnerships can only based on real values that partners can provide each other with. Yet, it is not enough having those values. They need to be communicated. Expressing and selling them is a profession, that many CIOs never studied. For acquiring the necessary skills to do so, involving business and sales consultants or coaches may help CIOs making the desired impact.

After the storm

The desperation caused by the storm of the pandemic has given a unique chance to CIOs to have their values demonstrated and measured upon the benefits they can provide, instead of the costs they represent. As written in the beginning, 95% of CIOs said that they have been expected to act beyond traditional IT responsibilities. They need to see this as a gift and grab this chance and do so: cope with the new expectations and with the role and prove that they are the value providing partners that their clients have always been looking for.

It is not going to be easier now, that the storm is almost gone.

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