What makes a good CIO? While unfortunately there never was a clear answer to this question, it has been reshuffled and reframed several times over the past 12 months, which will no doubt go down in the annals, for a lot of good and bad. very bad reasons.
CIOs have spent the whole of 2020 arbitrating between a complex array of technical, commercial and managerial responsibilities. They had to implement remote working capabilities almost overnight, while keeping IT systems operational remotely and dealing with a geographically disparate and emotionally depleted workforce.
This complex balancing act has had a significant impact on how companies perceive this role. In 12 months, CIOs have gone from being a service provider behind the scenes making sure the technology works, to being a business leader playing a key role in shaping the post-pandemic organizations, of which they spearhead .
At least that is the opinion of Paul Coby, an experienced IT leader. After serving as CIO at John Lewis Partnership and British Airways, the latter joined science and chemicals giant Johnson Matthey in April 2018. He has spent the past 12 months making sure IT was producing results in difficult conditions. Like other chief technology officers, he sees this annus horribilis that the year 2020 was a tipping point.
Take the light
“I think a lot of CIOs and CIOs have had a similar experience,” he says. “As a group of senior executives, we’ve been through three years of digital technology acceleration in three weeks, starting March-April. I think a lot of companies now understand digital technology, ”he says today. But with great power comes great responsibility: according to him, the IT leaders of tomorrow will have to meet very different expectations. Rather than working behind the scenes, they will need to be visible and collaborate.
Indeed, boards of directors will need IT leaders who can guide their businesses towards a digital future. This is a theme that resonates with Gartner, which recently unveiled its 10 resolutions for 2021. While overseeing technology remains a crucial part of the CIO’s role, all analyst resolutions are competency-based. non-technical. According to Gartner, this reflects the challenges of the previous year and addresses the specific capabilities that will be needed over the next 12 months.
“There is a lot of rejuvenation and a whole lot of rebuilding to be done. This all has an impact on the way you do the job of leading a technology-related company and on the way you present yourself personally, ”says Daniel Sanchez-Reina, senior analyst director at Gartner. These resolutions – which range from strategic planning to styles of videoconferencing and building a culture – basically revolve around three themes, with CIOs needing to be more efficient, more progressive, and more self-aware.
Five major axes
Paul Coby knows better than anyone the importance of communicating and collaborating effectively as an IT professional. While he thinks the company finally understands the importance of digital transformation, he also believes that this change in perception has necessary consequences for CIOs. “I feel like everyone has some form of digital transformation on the agenda. I don’t think there is a boardroom or leadership team that doesn’t recognize that IT is on the critical path to realizing the future. And now, as an CIO, you have to keep your promises. “
So what does this high quality service look like? Paul Coby draws on his experiences and suggests that five key characteristics define a great IT leader:
- Understand people. “It’s people who make businesses successful, and they are the people who use and make IT work. It’s pretty obvious, but also easy to forget, because IT people can focus on new technologies and keywords. “
- Develop collaboration. “Computing is a team sport. If architecture and operations, and the people who build the projects and manage the infrastructure, don’t work together effectively, nothing will work. Once again, it seems obvious, but when the pressure is on, people have to work both horizontally and vertically. “
- Promote operational expertise. “One of the things I learned early on is that if something goes wrong, you’re going to have to rely on your ability to delegate. It is therefore essential to value the people who ensure the functioning of production chains. Recognizing this and valuing that is really important, as well as the people who do innovative and creative things. “
- Engage everyone in digital. “Everyone is talking about digital transformation. Digital is the operation of the company as a whole. And, therefore, if you don’t involve the whole business, you won’t get anywhere. “
- Stick to what the business wants. “It’s easy enough for IT people to think in terms of IT, but you have to constantly try to put yourself in the shoes of the people you work with, because you don’t necessarily work for a research and development organization. That’s why you have to focus on what will get more customers, lower costs and make your business more sustainable. “
Listen to others
While communication skills have undoubtedly become more important to CIOs, Paul Coby adds that it’s also important to remember that IT managers will always be judged on their ability to deliver rock-solid IT operations. supporting the business.
Gartner recognizes this as well. According to the analyst firm, it’s too easy for technical managers to get lost in the CIO job. While they are to focus on meetings, governance, compliance, and other important responsibilities, they must also be able to speak out on futuristic business ideas and emerging technologies.
Perhaps the most important resolution for CIOs, IT managers, CTOs and others responsible for digital transformation to consider is that while soft skills are likely to become a more important part of their job, the harsh reality of delivering reliable, innovative and sustainable IT is as important as ever to becoming a great CIO.