CIO relevance in the age of digital

There are no magic bullets, but here are specific steps to help you achieve the goal.

Recently, I was asked to present a talk to senior IT executives in banking. The audience included CIOs and their direct reports.

Thinking about the topic, issues around CIO and IT relevance seemed most pressing and, therefore, most appropriate to discuss with these executives.

The question of relevance arises because our business and cultural environments have changed to the point where the precise nature and role of IT as a corporate function is ambiguous.

Historically, the role of IT was clear. Back in the old days, computers were big, expensive, and hard to operate so companies hired experts to make it all work. The Information Technology department protected these expensive machines and determined business access to scarce computing resources.

Everything changed with the ubiquitous proliferation of personal computers and then cloud computing. Today, we are all computing and software experts, which raises questions around the role and function of IT.

The question of relevance ultimately boils down to business value and utility. If the CIO helps marketing execute campaigns more quickly, for example, then relevance is established automatically. Similarly, when IT helps finance generate reports more easily, then the CIO becomes a partner.

However, greater relevance occurs when the CIO contributes meaningfully to corporate strategy. For example, Kroger's CIO, Chris Hjelm, works with senior leadership to make shopping easier and faster for the huge company's customers. In this case, strategic contribution creates tremendous corporate relevance for IT.

In other organizations, IT remains primarily a service function, responsible for infrastructure and the help desk. Obviously, business value is lower in this case.

The presentation explores issues that affect the ability of IT and the CIO to drive greater value in relationships with other parts of the company. There are no magic bullets or easy answers, but specific steps to help you achieve the goal.

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