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​Innovation and the visionary CIO

A guest author explains the highest value that a Chief Information Officer can bring to the business. An important and worthwhile perspective.

Visionary CIO

Like all columnists on ZDNet, I get many unsolicited requests to publish guest posts. On rare occasions, I hear from someone who has an interesting perspective that adds to the CIO conversation.

And so it was when Geoff Webb, VP, Solution Strategy for technology vendor Micro Focus, sent me a guest post explaining his view of the "visionary CIO."

Also read:

Leadership lessons for the digital workplace

Geoff's post has implications for:

On the topic of shadow IT, I don't buy into the view that it's all bad because there are many small projects that should not rise to the level of centralized IT. That said, Geoff is spot-on when he describes the overhead placed on IT when the CIO needs to weave together disconnected, short-term technology projects started by the business. I've heard more than one CIO complain about exactly this.

With that introduction, I hope you enjoy the following guest post by Geoff Webb. I did some editing but the ideas belong to him.

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The Chief Information Officer role continues to evolve almost as fast as the technology they are tasked with managing. From driving a centralized plan to dealing with shadow IT, the CIO job has never been short of challenges. Today, CIOs face their most demanding challenges ever.

To fend off rivals and seize competitive advantage, almost every organization feels pressure to drive new business models, open new markets, and embrace technology that offers deeper engagement with customers and partners. Many of those innovations are tied to changes in IT, so success or failure will happen fast and be measured on a global scale.

There are plenty of examples.

Amazon redefined how we think about buying books and the cost of brick-and-mortar retailers. Netflix did the same to video rental companies. Uber is having this effect on the transportation industry.

Companies eyeing technology trends see massive opportunities and potential threats, with technology-led innovation as a competitive weapon that has two, very sharp, edges.

This level of innovation doesn't arise from tactical decisions taken at the business unit level. It requires the kind of core assessment of technology, opportunity, and impact that only a centrally positioned role, such as the CIO, can deliver.

While IT has long been responsible for "keeping the lights on," the best CIOs also look for ways to accelerate business growth, providing guidance and guard rails for the CEO and board.

For example, the most successful CIOs ensure that departmental IT strategies form a coherent, overall plan that delivers long-term value, rather than a series of disconnected and highly tactical moments of instant IT gratification.

Keeping IT strategy headed in the right direction while avoiding investments in too many technological dead-ends requires a single vision of what is necessary and possible. Only the CIO can provide that vision. As organizations look at technology to feed innovation, it is unsurprising many want the participation of a visionary CIO.

A visionary CIO must demonstrate the ability to move rapidly and deliver business-enabling change while maintaining stability and infrastructure.

Critically, a visionary CIO must:

    Drive innovation. Despite pressure to maintain current and past systems, the CIO must drive innovation internally and in relation to external stakeholders. Because they understand both organization-wide needs and emerging technical trends, the CIO is squarely positioned to help their company innovate rapidly.

    Because CIOs have practical experience bringing technical solutions to business challenges and opportunities, they are ideally positioned to identify where technical innovation will deliver greatest business impact.

    Better than anyone else in the organization, the CIO knows how to implement technology that will affect critical business processes and open up new opportunities. Visionary CIOs drive innovation by marrying technical capability with concrete business opportunities.

      Deliver quickly. The average tenure of most CIOs is less than two years, so they must quickly focus on the right priorities to drive changes the business needs.

      Shadow IT, spend that occurs down at the business unit level, can be disruptive when it forces the IT organization to support poorly planned projects. Shadow IT also creates overhead by forcing the CIO to tie many disconnected technologies back together. Ideally, the CIO should be able to integrate IT projects from the ground up, allowing the business to replace short-term projects with a more efficient technology strategy.

      A visionary CIO serves short-term, bottom-up tactical needs while building actionable strategies that deliver a long-term advantage.

        Evaluate trends. The opportunities presented by cloud, big data and the Internet of things (IoT) go well beyond short-term benefit, potentially leading to new business models and markets. As customer data becomes more easily available, IoT offers the promise of real-time insights that can create new efficiencies and innovative services.

        Visionary CIOs understand the need to evaluate these trends and turn them into business opportunities.

        Failure to recognize the importance of technology trends like IoT opens the door to more agile competitors. A visionary CIO readies the business for IoT by helping change current systems and processes, supporting product innovation efforts, and participating in the business and technology shifts needed to exploit IoT opportunities.

          Don't over-think innovation. Innovation doesn't equate to the biggest, most expensive idea. Instead, the best CIOs constantly seek out IT solutions that are low risk and fast to implement, ensuring their ability to demonstrate meaningful value to the business. Quick wins are important.

          In the coming years, organizations will ask their CIO to take a pragmatic and visionary, role in driving innovation. Surrounded by the department with the most technical information, CIOs are ideally placed to do more than simply recognize opportunities: they can deploy technology and execute rapidly to create business value.

          The visionary CIO can be a primary link between business initiatives and technology, leaning on a wealth of experience to restructure enterprise processes in the service of innovation, happier customers, and faster growth.

          Thank you to Geoff Webb for writing this guest post.