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Five Critical Steps to Become a Strategic CIO

The process of transforming to a strategic CIO is not a task that is accomplished over night. It is a complicated focused effort of applying the necessary competencies and skills to lead the IT organization to effectively partner with the business to create sustainable business value. Let us explore each of the five steps.

1. Perform the Basics Exceptionally Well

CIOs need to get their house in order if they are going to effectively build the trust and working relationship necessary to partner with the business. The basic services provided to the business by IT has to work effectively. Email, telephony, order entry, shipping, finance and other applications that support the business need to operate efficiently.

SanDisk Corporation is the leading manufacturer of flash memory cards for imaging, computing, mobile, and gaming devices. When Ravi Naik – CIO joined Sandisk he met with business unit heads and learned that some of the basic IT services weren’t working as well as the users required. Ravi spent the next 6 months improving the basic services in order to build the trust of his colleagues.

2. Learn the Business and Competitive Environment  

Any CIO who wants to effectively partner with the business needs to understand the business. This is a basic fact. Not only is an understanding of the business important but also the competitive environment that the business competes in. If the CIO engages in discussions with business colleagues about business challenges then a knowledge of how the business operates, the value the business provides its customers, and the competitive landscape is a necessary imperative. In fact, the CIO needs to attend business conferences to gain a perspective of how business executives think. Conversely, CIOs should invite business executives to CIO conferences so they get a perspective of the Information Technology world. Additionally, it would be very beneficial for CIOs to accompany Sales Executives on customer meetings so the CIO can see how company personnel interact with customers.

Steve Fugale is CIO at Villanova University located in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. He has been in the CIO role for 10 years. When he first arrived at Villanova he realized that he needed to fix the basic IT services. “It took us 2 plus years to stabilize our environment before I could even begin discussing with University Deans how the IT department can help them improve the student learning experience”.  After stabilizing the environment he met with department heads to understand the business. Steve also has a good business background as well as business acumen. A few years ago a new president was hired for the University. Steve Fugale developed a good working relationship with him and when the new President needed to develop a business strategy he asked Steve to help him. As a result Steve learned firsthand, from a strategic perspective, the challenges of the University, the competitive University environment, and what goals the University president identified that needed to be accomplished. As a result, Steve was in a perfect situation to work with University colleagues to leverage information technology in enabling the University’s strategic plan. To this day Steve works on the yearly University Strategic Plan with the University president.

3. Upskill IT/Business Personnel through Cross Training

A CIO needs the IT organization to understand and speak the language of business. Too often IT personnel meet with business teams and each speak a language of their own. This is sometimes referred to as business and IT speak. It’s like a ying and yang. If the two groups can’t understand each other how are they ever going to work together. So to facilitate this process the CIO and the business leaders needs to facilitate a cross training program where both IT and business unit personnel learn the basics of each other’s function.

Kim Hammonds is CIO for Boeing. When I spoke to Kim at the CIO100 conference in August 2012 I mentioned that people are an important ingredient in the success of IT. She turned to me and said, “People are the most important component for an IT Organization to be successful”. Kim learned early in her career as a mechanical engineer that there is nothing like walking in the shoes of the customer. At Boeing IT employees spend a few days each year working on the manufacturing floor working performing the job that they support from an information technology perspective. Upon completion of their tour each IT employee must document what they learned, what they experienced that could be better enabled through information technology (something new, a modification, etc.). If approved by a committee of IT/Manufacturing personnel the IT employee would manage the change and then test the improvement on the shop floor.

4. Focus on Initiatives to Optimize Margin (Revenue and Costs)

CIOs have traditionally been measured on adherence to budget objectives and service level agreements. But the Strategic CIO needs to think more like a business person than a technology engineer. Working with business executives the CIO needs to help drive revenue as well as optimize costs. We’ve all heard that IT activities need to align with business goals and objectives. But actually partnering with the business on a joint project which drives revenue is really cool and rewarding.

Debra Martucci-CIO at Synopsys leads the IT organization of the 2 billion dollar world leader in electronic design automation (EDA), supplying the global electronics market with the software, IP and services used in semiconductor design and manufacturing. Her IT organization develops computer applications that help Synopsys engineers develop the products sold by the company. It occurred to Debra one day that a couple of the software applications could actually be used by Synopsys customers in designing computer chips. She worked with the Marketing VP and these applications were sold to Synopsys customers creating a revenue stream. Now the Synopsys IT Organization is driving revenue for the corporation.

5. Leverage Technology Strategically

IT organizations love to tinkle with new technologies and even existing technologies. It’s a cool thing to do. But technology for technology sake does not drive business value. The strategic use of technology in addressing business challenges is what IT organizations should be striving to do. Everyone is abuzz about the use of Cloud, Mobility, Social Media, and the challenges of Big Data. The economic value of these services will evolve over the next few years. But in the meantime strategic use of technology can create customer value and generate revenue.

Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network is based in the Lehigh County Pennsylvania. A network of hospitals and health care facilities with over 5,000 employees strives to be the best health care. Their tag line is “a passion for better medicine”. Harry Lukens, Senior Vice President and CIO has a passion to improve patient outcomes. All his energy and drive go towards achieving this goal. Harry always strives to enable patient outcomes through improved process enabled by information technology.

Harry Lukens created a multi-disciplinary team called “Wild Ideas Team” that who try and figure out if any idea makes sense and can be implemented. One wild idea was how to remotely provide 24/7 monitoring of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) patients. The team came up with the ACIU (Advanced Intensive Care Unit. Every ICU room is set up with cameras and two-way audio. An ICU doctor at a remote location can monitor and speak to the patient. The advantage of a remote ACIU doctor is that the patient is monitored by a physician 24 hours seven days a week. During the day hospitals are buzzing with doctors making rounds. But at night nurses take over and residents on call cover many hospital units. The remote ACIU monitors a patient’s blood pressure and other vitals and can communicate with the nurse using the two-way audio feed. This use of technology not only saved money but saved lives.

Phil Weinzimer is president of Strategere Consulting working with clients to develop business and IT strategies that focus on achieving business outcomes. Previously Mr. Weinzimer was Managing Principal-Professional Services for IT Business Management at BMC Software. He has also held Managing Principal positions in the Professional Services organizations for ITM Software, CAI, and Sapient.

Mr. Weinzimer has written a book concerning customer value entitled “Getting IT Right: Creating Customer Value for Market Leadership” and has a forthcoming book, “The Strategic CIO: Creating Customer Value, Increasing Revenue, Enhancing Shareholder Wealth”, will be available in 2013.

Mr. Weinzimer can be contacted at pweinzimer@strategere.com

About Phil Weinzimer

Author and president of Strategere Consulting working with clients to develop business and IT strategies that focus on achieving business outcomes.

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