And there is a continuing recognition of the importance of the non-technical management aspects of the CIO role. Business-IT alignment has gotten a lot of press for a long time. That can be a struggle as it assumes there’s something to align with — the business may have conflicts about what it wants to do, so it can be hard to align. But CIOs are getting better at translating [business goals] into daily decision making.
Q: There are a lot of good CIOs out there, but what defines the ones who truly stand out?
A: Super CIOs are moving beyond business-IT alignment into agenda setting. Business-IT alignment presupposes that as an IT organization you are in a follower role — you figure out what the business wants to do and structure activities in reaction to that. When you set the agenda you are leading the business. Instead of coming to IT steering commitee meetings to figure out how to react, you come with the express intent of setting the senior executive team’s agenda at the company and leading them through the changes that are going to benefit the company.
Q: There aren’t a lot of organizations where the CIO has that kind of clout, though. What does IT leadership need to do to demonstrate that it can take charge at that level?
A: There is the equivalent of Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs in the IT department. At the bottom is all the operational and infrastructure stuff — organizations are organized around applications and O and I (operations and infrastructure). If those things at the bottom are not working, no one is going to be interested in talking with you about how to align with the business. You are in immediate and direct pain.
A Super CIO will recognize this hierarchy and make sure the stuff at the bottom is nailed before they try to go to the top [setting the business agenda]. It’s a big problem to try to talk to the CEO in an attempt to set the agenda when their email is down.
Our advice is to pay attention to this hierarchy and make sure the proper level of infrastructure and expertise is there to nail this stuff on the lower levels, so you can spend your time on the upper levels. If you try to do the upper level stuff first, you won’t succeed.
CIOs read a lot about worrying about the upper level stuff ,since that’s where the interesting and strategic things happen. The bottom-level stuff tends to be more of technical skill set vs. the management skill set at the top level. But this is where your ability to hire the right people and team is paramount — if you get them in place, they will make bottom stuff work well so you can spend your time at the top.