CIO suicide and the fight against conventional wisdom

It's time for CIOs to rise up against the conventional wisdom of feeds and speeds to become true leaders. That's the only way to avoid four threats that can lead to CIO suicide.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

Unfortunately, discussions about IT success often devolve into boring diatribes on the virtues of project management. For example, a major strategy consulting firm recently called me to discuss reasons why ERP projects fail. After reciting the conventional wisdom on project management – managing scope poorly, insufficient executive sponsorship, unclear business requirements – they asked my opinion.

It was an awkward conversation because these smart consultants had missed the most important point: the conventional wisdom of project management usually fails. How else can you understand IT project failure rates that approach 70 percent? I explained that real project success comes from deepening communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing among stakeholders regardless of their role in the organization. If you get collaboration right and add a decent project manager, the chances of success rise dramatically.

The CIO challenge. Similarly, conventional wisdom asserts that deploying technical infrastructure, building useful applications, and generally handling an organization’s technology needs will create CIO success. Although these activities are foundational, achieving CIO greatness requires another dimension entirely – understanding the company’s business strategy and helping the organization absorb business process change.

With this in mind, I read with interest an article called Career Suicide and the CIO: 4 Deadly New Threats, from Bob Evans, a communications executive at Oracle.

Also read:
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In his piece, Bob looks beyond the mechanical aspects of the CIO role and hits on more significant points of long-term value. Here is a summary of the four CIO threats that he describes:

Lack of Vision. No matter how technically astute, no matter how many wildly complex projects have been completed, no matter how dependable, CIOs today will not succeed and will need to be replaced if they don’t have an ability to see not only where their company and industry are and have been, but where they are headed, why they’re headed that way, and what all-new minefields and opportunities are looming.

Lack of Leadership. CIOs today need to be active and inspiring participants in those conversations and relentless contributors to new ways for their companies to get closer to customers, find new sources of revenue, create new products more quickly, accelerate all facets of their operations, and embed value-creating technologies in not just the IT infrastructure but in the company’s products, services, processes, and culture.

Trying to Resist the Social/Mobile Revolution. Social and mobile technologies and processes are triggering sweeping improvements in how companies communicate with customers and employees, monitor discussions around their brands, engage customers and prospects more immediately and precisely, and gain real-time insights into powerful market trends and possibilities. Any CIO who tries to hold back the surge because of well-intentioned but tactical concerns over security or governance or standards is going to get overruled, then marginalized, and then reassigned.

Surrendering to the 80/20 budget trap. Unless CIOs lead the way in reducing the portion of their overall IT budgets now spent on low-value infrastructure and keeping the lights on (it’s typically between 70% and 80%), then they will never liberate the funds necessary to invest in and create customer-facing applications and other innovative approaches to growth and engagement. The CIO’s mantra should be this: more innovation, less integration.

We are in a global period of great transition; economic upheaval remains an ongoing threat while the cloud-social-mobile nexus has forced change on many organizations. The big CIO leadership challenge, and opportunity, is helping your organization develop the cultural flexibility to navigate these profound changes.

Conventional wisdom tells us that CIOs should focus on "feeds and speeds," which is another way to describe infrastructure and applications. However, that coventional wisdom is wrong; today's CIO must become a business leader who stands on equal footing with other C-level counterparts. That's the best way to avoid Bob Evan's four threats that lead to CIO suicide.

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