The Hybrid CIO…An Interesting Opportunity

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I recently came across an interesting article on the Dawn of the hybrid CIO which talked about a new strategic frontier focused around the opportunity for CIOs to lead more broadly through the power of customer data. In reading this, I reflected on my own recent evolution of my CIO role, and wanted to share my thoughts on where I looked to have broader impact, and what other CIOs might consider if they aspire to play a broader business role, and position themselves to drive revenue and impact.

The opportunity

In my organization, we have been continuously transforming the technology, the company and our business over the last few years to stay competitive and look for new opportunities. On the one hand, this has been a good lesson in the fact that transformation does not end after the first big effort, but must happen continuously. On the other hand, at each stage of transformation, I have looked for the opportunity to not only work with my CEO and executive team peers to look for ways to leverage technology in the transformation, but to take the lead to transform the company through technology. This – for me – has provided a chance to add bottom line value in new and different ways, as well as bring my executive team along to truly understand the power of technology to drive the business. (As a side note, I shared some of the valuable things I learned about linking IT investments to business value in an earlier transformation effort in this Center case study entitled Linking IT Investments to Business Value.)

More recently we have been looking at new ways to leverage data and transform the services we offer to our existing client base. In the course of this effort, we uncovered a significant challenge with our client services department. I saw the opportunity to leverage the approach I had taken within IT to re-organize delivery support, streamline communications, and improve our interaction with internal customers, and use it to revamp our external client services function. I was ultimately able to make the case for taking over the client services function along with IT, and the result is a significant improvement in client satisfaction and service delivery.

Making the case

While this step seemed to be an obvious one to me, it took some education with colleagues and clients for them to see why the role of the CIO should transform again. And the ultimate case touched on the points raised in the article I referenced earlier – it all comes down to the data. Given that 99% of the issues that arise in our industry- and in our company’s service delivery – are data related, what makes better sense than managing that within the CIO’s office. My own business background in consulting and service delivery was helpful to the case as well, but I see the data as driving opportunity for all CIOs to take on more aspects of driving the business and leading the company towards true customer centricity. After taking the time to build the case and bring my colleagues along, upon presenting the new paradigm to the Board, they understood the need and agreed with the value immediately.

Where is your opportunity?

I know that I am not alone in seeing the leadership opportunities for CIOs in the exploding role of data across all industries and enterprises. In fact, a number of my fellow Center CIO members have contributed to Center research on this topic. My question is – how will you seize this opportunity in your own organization? What are you doing to become a “hybrid CIO?”

Building the Business Case for Resources - the Multinational Challenge

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One of the strongest messages I hear from my fellow CIOs – especially those in the US and Europe – is the all-consuming focus on cutting costs. The mindset is to optimize growth in order to overcome cost increases, while at the same time looking for ways to reduce the workforce. In Asia – where I am based as a regional CIO in a multi-national company headquartered in Germany—businesses have a different view about resources and investing. This presents some interesting opportunities and challenges to my role, and I am curious how other Center members in a similar position approach this.

In Asia, the mindset is to lead today for business that comes in the next year or two. We are innovating for two years from now, rather than looking to cut costs today. The appetite is to take more risk today, to make sure we are looking ahead. In the case of building an innovative technology team to support this forward-looking focus, we are always looking at what can we do to find the qualified people that we will really need in one to two years. As a CIO in this region, if I am to continue to provide both the vision and execution on innovation to drive the future business, I have to participate in this active recruitment and acquisition of talent in advance of current need.

My challenge is – how do I convince my European-based headquarters to understand this perspective? How do I make the case to an executive team focused on cutting costs that competing in the Asia region requires a different approach to investing in resources? How do I construct a view into the longer term returns of laying the path to innovation? The response I get is “show me the business case” and this is a challenge in the context of risk-reward mindsets that have significant regional differences. Here is the way I have approached this. I would be very interested to hear other experiences and ideas.

• One of the challenges in getting global buy in for investment in the regions is to get alignment across the enterprise on what we mean by “internationalization of IT” and what it means to operate as an international company. The vision and needs of one region may be very different from the others, and we need to set priorities that balance the regional needs with the global strategy and vision for growth of the company.

• At a recent international meeting of the IT services organization and the regions, I posed this question to the group. We had a useful conversation on how to approach communicating the needs of the international regions, and mapping an approach to manage regional vs global prioritizations for both investments, as well as defining expectations on returns based on what is growing, and how they deliver to the global strategy. We need to continue to push this common understanding to ensure our IT investment strategy ties to our goals as well as our outcomes.

• In terms of trying to make the case from my own regional perspective, I start by taking the overall strategy and goals for where growth will come from within the enterprise and break it down to show how, where and when you need to invest in IT resources to make the growth strategy happen. I consider the whole enterprise when I develop this map, because we can often use the strength of the global nature of the business to fulfill the needs, making the acquisition of new resources more targeted and strategic. It may not be a linear solution. Sometimes it requires we bring new people in to a particular region to have them in place, but often I can show how others within the existing global organization can be re-deployed and work by taking advantage of the time zones to achieve the goals. Showing how you can maximize the global organization helps to make the case for selected new investments within the region. And even with shorter term investments and projects, linking the resources to the enterprise goals helps bring buy in and alignment.

• As a final note, one of the areas where I do not have trouble getting investment buy-in is in the area of security and compliance. This done at the Group level and thanks in large part to the many high profile news stories of the cost and impact of security breaches, the Board and the Group leadership have a very keen awareness of why we have to invest in to protect the company. This is a case where I benefit from the enterprise perspective.

How does my approach and my experience resonate? What other experiences do members have that might help CIOs in my position?