How CIOs Can Become Business Heroes

Columnist Michael Hugos offers clear directions for how CIOs can open the exit door from the techie trap.

They scheduled you for just 30 minutes right after lunch on the second day of the annual senior management retreat. They did it because, even though you are a senior exec, they still think of you as "the techie."

Your business colleagues on the management team don't have time for techie talk, and they don't want to hear why they can't get the systems they want right away. So they put you into that oh-so-forgettable slot right after lunch when everybody is half asleep.

If you're an IT director or CIO, you may have been in this same position. I've been there. I feel your pain. Welcome to the classic predicament of the rising IT exec. It's the "techie trap," the IT version of the glass ceiling. They won't take you seriously or let you go any higher because you're the techie. So how do you break out?

A Wake-Up Call

You start by waking them up with a surprise presentation after lunch. You say you've decided to change the way you finance and deliver new apps and systems. You say you have a plan for reducing the risk of big-dollar, up-front investments in new systems (a.k.a. capital expense or "capex"); instead you are going to switch to a pay-as-you-go (operating expense or "opex") model to pay for new apps and systems.

You expand on this by saying you are also going to roll out new, high-priority applications and system upgrades on a continuous 30-, 60- or 90-day delivery cycle that aligns with quarterly company objectives. You tell them they can change their system development priorities every 30 days as business needs change and unexpected things happen.

By the time you finish saying this, you will have the rapt attention of everyone in the room.

You have not said anything techie; you have not dropped a single TLA (three-letter acronym). As your words sink in, people look up from their smartphones or laptops, and those staring out the window shift their gaze to you. Several people (like the CEO and maybe the CFO and the COO) even lean forward in their chairs and start nodding their heads as they listen.

You have surprised and delighted them. Ideas flow and IT is the topic of conversation for the next two hours instead of the scheduled 30 minutes. You have just opened the exit door from the techie trap.

The strategy for business success these days can be summed up as: Try many things, follow success, abandon failure. Since business operations and IT have completely merged, the advantage goes to those companies whose IT groups can try many things (because nobody knows what will work) and quickly scale up what does work.

Further advantage goes to those who can walk away from the many things that don't work--without leaving behind a lot of sunk cost (capex) in hardware and software. IT executives who get things done quickly and avoid squandering big capex dollars are in huge demand.

Use cloud computing (public, private or hybrid) to quickly provision new business units. Build new systems and apps from a mix of in-house and hosted software, leverage social media and mobile consumer devices, and write a bit of custom code when needed. Do all of this with no money up front, no long-term licenses, and a pay-as-you-go model. Break big projects into smaller pieces and roll new pieces into production every 30, 60 or 90 days.

You probably already know this, or at least strongly suspect it. So all I'm doing is telling you that you're right. This is how you get out of the techie trap and become a business hero.

Michael Hugos, a former CIO, is an author, speaker and principal at the Center for Systems Innovation ( www.michaelhugos.com).

Read more about cloud computing in CIO's Cloud Computing Drilldown.

This story, "How CIOs Can Become Business Heroes" was originally published by CIO.

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