The CIO’s Growing Role: IT and Innovation

As 2011 gets into high-gear, we are seeing the predicted IT spending increases come to pass; with companies often shifting their focus from cost-cutting initiatives to growth and innovation projects.

Accompanying this spending increase is a shift in the role of the CIO towards an architect for business innovation. This increased, highly visible responsibility creates additional drains on CIOs’ already limited bandwidth, thus establishing a need to build a framework for innovation that is efficient, creative, fact-based and that supports efficient time management.

How to deliver strategic value: A road map for CIOs

The CIO’s role has been evolving constantly over the last 10 years, and the integration of technology into every facet of an organization has only accelerated the pace of change. Looking toward 2011 and beyond, we see the scope of responsibilities and expectations for CIOs to deliver business results growing dramatically, resulting in an ever-growing workload. Key to this rapid increase is the CIO’s new role as thought leader for business innovation.

IT leaders often are expected to develop strategies that boost revenues, cut costs, and help ensure regulatory compliance. Adding the new wrinkle of innovation leader, CIOs also are being called on to unearth and architect differentiating solutions. These solutions are expected to drive measurable improvements in customer experience, deliver increased revenues, and deliver higher margins through advanced tools that can be integrated throughout the enterprise and across the supply chain. While some solutions may sound familiar, the expectation has shifted from simply choosing new tools to delivering game-changing results.

The common thread among these expectations isn’t the technology but the innovation and the speed with which the innovation takes place. The explosion over the past two years of personal computing devices is an example of the speed of innovation.

After Apple introduced the iPad in April 2010, for instance, employees everywhere immediately began purchasing it and trying to use them for a combination of personal and business purposes. This single product spawned an entire industry of application developers that created software built to solve specific and real problems related to using these computing devices in the workplace.

Innovative CIOs quickly realized not only the power of personal devices but anticipated the rapidly increasing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) to work trend and adapted to make the tools useful in the workplace. Issues quickly arose such as how to support devices, ensure security, adhere to acceptable use policy, and handle reimbursement. Organizations look to their CIOs to provide answers to these tactical questions without losing sight of the strategic opportunity that exists in the disruption that can be caused by any technology innovation.

This growing list of responsibilities that comes with virtually unlimited technological options shows no signs of slowing. At the same time, CEOs continue to look to CIOs for answers to fundamental issues such as obtaining more business intelligence and having better financial reporting. CFOs continue to emphasize cost savings and operational efficiency. To help control their expanding responsibilities, CIOs increasingly are relying on strong frameworks to pull everything together.

In the current climate of overwhelming choice between a lot of good IT investment, how should CIOs prioritize the many projects competing for their attention to ensure IT supports business strategy? From formulating a budget that can support critical objectives to determining return on investment (ROI) for each project, it’s critical that CIOs develop a framework to bring order and focus to their strategy.

A road map is a planning model that takes a comprehensive view of an organization’s possible initiatives and communicates the initiatives visibly and concisely. It is a proven tool to help ensure that a company’s execution strategy is coherent and can be translated effectively into action. By directing leaders to identify and prioritize projects, a road map helps to lay out an orderly, methodical timetable in which to accomplish objectives. And since the development of a road map requires collaboration among top leaders, it also improves accountability and transparency around projects.

The CIO has many strategic planning tools to draw on, but a well-executed road map takes a holistic view of the suite of projects. In the modern organization, few projects are solely IT projects — most are business challenges for which IT is an integral part of the solution.

Technology has become so intertwined in the operations of every function and department that it can no longer be approached as a freestanding component. As a result, a road map forces CIOs to understand the dependencies within and across functions and departments before embarking on projects.

Developing an effective road map

A good IT roadmap can quickly put a CIO’s plans into a format that technical and nontechnical resources can understand; thus avoiding the risk of wasted spending and lost time that can result from taking a less structured approach to planning. To formulate a road map, CIOs should follow these six steps:

Understand and build alignment – Before a company can select a business direction, executives should be aligned on that strategy and direction. CIOs should engage top executives and stakeholders to evaluate considerations such as how the company serves customers, where it falls among the competition, how it uses information and technology, and what its alliance is with business partners.

Understanding these issues, translating them to goals, and determining the value of what’s important, helps CIOs focus on where top priorities lay.

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