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CEOs and corporate boards are increasingly recognizing the crucial role that technology - and technology leaders - play in achieving strategic goals.

Never has there been a better time to be a great CIO. And, there has never been a worse time to be an average one.

In a recent Deloitte study, CEOs overwhelmingly indicate that technology is critical to driving product and service innovation as well as top-line growth (93% and 90% respectively). The frame of reference for CEOs is changing in terms of of how IT can contribute to the business, and this shift bodes well for the role of the CIO.

Support now exists for CIOs to be significant partners in developing business strategy and delivering digital transformation, providing a great opportunity for CIOs to shine as business leaders. So, what can CIOs do to take advantage of the increased expectations of CEOs?

Here are three areas of focus that will build leadership legitimacy:

1. Deliver Tangible Business Results

It is easy to focus most of your attention on activities that keep the lights on, but these activities only prove that you are a credible technology leader. They also do not provide legitimacy for you as a business leader because by themselves, they do not generate business value that moves the strategic needle.

The first step is to understand the strategic priorities of stakeholders. Make sure you know their business goals, expected benefits and how you can make them successful. Avoid explaining the technology to them, and instead, listen to their concerns. Position projects in ways that address those concerns, and you will be more likely to get them on-board as sponsors.

The most visible business benefits are often found in customer-focused initiatives. Consider customer-centric projects that can be implemented relatively quickly and develop a value statement that generates stakeholder buy-in. Delivering value to the customer builds credibility for you as a leader. It demonstrates that you understand the business and its strategic goals, not just technology.

2. Lead Change

Focusing on delivering business benefits as well as functionality presents the opportunity to lead organizational change. Expertise in communication, stakeholder engagement, and process change are marks of a strong business leader.

Start with your IT organization. Develop and promote IT leaders with business acumen as well as technology knowledge. Demand and incent collaboration with business partners in a structured set of interactions. Consider creating a business relationship management role for each of the major stakeholder areas and make them accountable for developing solutions that deliver on their business partners’ strategic goals.

If you have developed clear business sponsors for each initiative, engage with them in a robust collaboration. Offer to help them shape communication messages with their teams and the other top executives. Participate in their briefings with the CEO and the Board. As the CIO, you are best suited to craft communications that blend the technology with business benefits and the connection with strategic objectives.

3. Pursue Board Experience

Given the impact of information technology on business performance and the risk of cybersecurity failures, the CIO can be the perfect board member. Even if your company does not include you in board meetings, proactively look for opportunities to present a strategy to them. Remember to focus on what they care about: revenue enhancement, new business models and minimizing risk. The board has a different mandate than the executive team and you need to keep this in mind when designing your communications.

 

Related article:

Strengthening the CIO – Corporate Board Relationship

by Terry Bennett

 

Outside non-executive director positions are another opportunity for CIOs. There are programs available to CIOs to develop board-level skills. Serving as an outside director also provides leadership development and career development opportunities by expanding your network.

You can also consider serving on a professional or industry board or consortium. This will enhance your leadership CV and your professional network. It also has the potential to expose you to new and innovative solutions that you can apply at your organization.

The role of the CIO is becoming more important and CEOs recognize the contribution that technology can make toward competitive advantage. CEOs are looking for an executive leader who can provide a strategic technology vision as well as implement change to realize business value. CIOs can seize the opportunity to be viewed as business-technology leaders, not just technologists, and elevate the role to its highest point in history.

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