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The Role of the CIO in Transforming Business & Enabling Growth

The ability to redefine business can come in large part today from understanding technology and how it can be an enabler of transformation. The smartest companies realize that a strong CIO can take customer and transaction data and help turn it into knowledge that enables businesses to better understand their markets. When needed, information assets can also help transform business and underlying processes. How viable is it to hire an IT head who really understands the business? Today many companies hire an IT Director as their CIO – someone who may be more experienced at managing and leading only technical employees. However, understanding the business and having an intelligent conversation about it in the board room is important. C-level IT executives are embodied in CIOs like Charlie Feld formerly with Frito Lay and later successful at Burlington Northern and Delta Airlines. CIOs of this caliber have moved into the CEO position.

Fedex transformed itself from a shipper to a major player in logistics. It is now seen as a technology company in the logistics and transportation business. The momentum coming from the top, enabling the CIO.

One important philosophy to embed in transformation projects is growth. Is the transformation enabling business goals and business growth? Here are some thoughts to consider from one high-performance CIO:

The implementation of change initiatives hasn’t always been smooth: business leaders (and IT managers) who had grown used to an IT department that merely took and fulfilled orders had to get comfortable with IT leaders who challenged them and kept an eye on the IT strategy of the broader enterprise. But the changes were necessary—and, despite the bumps, ultimately successful.

  • As the CIO for a rapidly growing technology vendor, one client had to scale the IT organization quickly so that it could handle not only its current tasks but also whatever might be on the horizon.
  • Keeping systems up and running is just the beginning; the way the IT function uses resources to satisfy the demands of the business determines the real value of information technology. Our client explained how they organized the team to work closely with the business in order to ensure that IT’s investments match the organization’s strategic priorities.
  • Even in the tech-friendly realm of Silicon Valley, IT leaders struggle to inspire their own people—and the business colleagues who depend on them—to move beyond an order-taking mentality by striving to understand the needs of the business and proposing innovative solutions to its problems.

Figuring Out What to Fix

Best practice: Conduct high-level interviews with executives and a series of work sessions to identify the biggest problems faced, as well as the top five or six things to focus on in the next 18 months to be successful.

For companies that are strong in product innovation this can not only help to acquire new customers but retain them with excellent service. For example when you sell to CIOs and other senior IT execs who understand IT operations, the expectations around IT customer support and professional services are high. Service capabilities that can remotely diagnose trouble in products and signal it, sometimes even before the customer becomes aware is a way of using technology to be proactive in providing excellent service, which in turn usually leads to growth due to high current customer satisfaction.

Setting transformational priorities – A business & IT partnership

Often when in rapid growth, companies do not focus on improving business processes. As part of a long-term growth strategy, improving business processes can be key. In a normal business process transformation, you would focus primarily on making improvements on the process side. Often, a high percentage of critical processes have IT implications, so you must deal with business processes together with the IT that supports them. Systems and processes are often tightly linked.

Assessment & Methodology to Develop a Roadmap

An assessment can reveal capability gaps between where you are and where you needed to be. Using something like Six Sigma alone may be too rigorous and might not enable you to move quickly enough to get from here to there. Instead, using a Lean or Lean / Six Sigma approach enable you to identify the five top critical process capability gaps that can prevent you from scaling up the business. Attack those gaps with gusto. This enables you to continue to build quickly while also looking at least two or three years ahead to make sure that we had a road map of where we wanted our business and our technology to go. We revisit the road map every year because our business is pretty dynamic. Our problem areas will change, and we need to be nimble enough to address changes in the strategy.

Improve Processes to Improve Scalability

For example, an order-to-cash process might be something needed to improve in order to be able to scale up our business. You might note that a large percentage of sales orders in your company have to be manually touched by someone on the order-management team. Since so much of your business comes at the end of a quarter, that really threatens your ability to scale. So start by attacking that from the business process and systems perspectives. Some companies reduced orders requiring a manual touch by 75 percent.

Strive to deliver tangible business value in 90-day increments

When the company doesn’t see the results fast enough, questions start to pop up. So communication and change management are paramount because you want to show clearly not only the road map but also the results that you are generating by working through the road map.

Significance to our readers: 1) read the Wall Street Journal / MIT Sloane Management Review‘s analysis of CIOs in the work place 2) No World Borders has helped CIOs in several industries to transform business process and improve organizational effectiveness through organizational development work.

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