Many CIOs battle the need to ensure stable back office operations and their desire to create transformational impact that goes beyond IT. The challenge to become more than an internal infrastructure provider, focused primarily on technology deployment, is fundamental to any CIO who wants to participate strategically at an organizational level.
In contrast to technology gatekeepers, transformative CIOs serve as true business executives, transcending infrastructure and applying technology as a lever to support core business strategies and operations.
These tensions were front and center during my conversation with two senior executives from global services giant Accenture. Andrew Wilson is Accenture’s current CIO and Frank Modruson is leaving the CIO position after 11 years in that role. As an $28.6 billion company that employs 275,000 people, Accenture relies on technology to operate on massive scale.
The discussion was episode 31 of the ongoing series of CxOTalk conversations with senior-level executives and innovators. You can watch the entire episode or see a short set of highlights embedded below.
Innovation is the touchstone. The continuous reinvention of IT at Accenture is a strong theme that emerged during our conversation. A flat organization, combined with a cultural tendency toward technology, enables IT at Accenture to play a significant role in helping the company drive internal collaboration and facilitate delivering service to customers.
According to Modruson, Accenture has a “bias toward innovation,” which helps the business adapt to changing circumstances over time. This cultural bias pulls the CIO to make IT investments that provide the business with concrete operational and strategic advantage; the primary reference point is innovation, rather than cost reduction or efficiency improvements alone.
IT transformation means rethinking existing technology, systems, and priorities to ensure they support high-value business goals. This reevaluation may require IT to change its investment strategy and focus in ways that defy conventional wisdom.
As an example, Andrew Wilson explains that disruptions to the company’s collaboration infrastructure, such as instant messaging, can create more problems than if financial systems go down for an hour. Traditional IT logic does not recognize collaboration systems as mission critical, but service delivery at Accenture is based on project teams so prioritizing this way reflects the strong connection between IT and business operations.
The evolving CIO role. Historically, Wilson says, IT has been an “order-taker” and “back office cost center.” Today, the CIO must become an internal consultant and coach, orchestrating people and technologies to better meet business goals and serve clients.
Because technology plays a central role in almost every business function today, new opportunities will arise for CIOs who can make the transition from infrastructure to helping their company become flexible and adaptive to changing business needs. Wilson commented that sophisticated CIOs can play a “powerful and influential” business role as technology grows more strategic and business becomes increasingly digital.
Although digital transformation is a critical opportunity, achieving leadership in this area requires the CIO to possess business acumen, communication skills, and management expertise. Therefore, I suggest that every CIO consider these points:
Spend massive time with business stakeholders. The foundation of CIO effectiveness is learning to understand the needs, issues, and goals of both internal stakeholders and external customers. There is no substitute for doing a deep dive into your company’s operations and aspirations; spend time in the trenches.
Be the voice of business value. Business users want infrastructure to be transparent; in other words, be sure your systems and processes are user-friendly and reliable. However, CIO leadership only reaches fruition when technology conversations give way to discussions of business value and achieving future potential. Don't talk tech with people who only care about business outcomes.
Lead your organization into digital transformation. With few exceptions, every company will face new challenges, competitors, and opportunities, as our society grows more connected. Driving this transformation is an ideal way for savvy, business-oriented CIOs to contribute substantively to the business. Now is the time to step up your own skills and lead the charge!
Listen closely to the video embedded above; it’s only four minutes in length yet explains how a CIO can bring IT and the business together at the point of highest value.
The video concludes with a powerful statement by outgoing Accenture CIO, Frank Modruson, who says:
“Embrace the change; it’s going to be a wonderful ride.”
In these words, Modruson captures the spirit of digital transformation and summarizes great CIO opportunity.