CIO Opportunities Are Expanding Rapidly – It’s Time to Make the Most of Them

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No other corporate function has evolved as fast or as dramatically as IT. Once relegated to keeping machines and networks running – tough enough when technology was younger – IT now has access to remarkable solutions that streamline everything from team meetings to customer acquisition and experience. With the increasingly common use of these solutions, we’ve reached the point at which the perceived differences between company A and competitor B largely depend on the degree to which each has succeeded in deploying new technology. 

This dynamic made it inevitable that IT would advance from the back office to a much more strategic role. But as this IT transformation / evolution is ongoing, the ride hasn’t been the same for everyone. A recent survey about the role of CIOs in midmarket US companies and their own IT leadership strategy by Forrester Consulting commissioned by Windstream Enterprise reveals clear divisions across the evolutionary timeline, and we’re currently at something of a midpoint.

IT today: roughly 1/3 pushing the strategic envelope, 1/3 getting there, 1/3 yet to start

36% of CIOs and IT and senior business leaders today say that their companies view IT leaders as strategic, functioning as partners to CEOs and CMOs in formulating customer-facing strategies. 33% are transforming their IT organizations in that direction, and 31% say they are still “order takers,” executing strategies and road maps formulated by others in their organizations.

perceptions of how business leaders view CIOs

According to a recent study by Forrester Consulting, commissioned by Windstream
Enterprise, perceptions of how business leaders view CIOs is pretty evenly divided.

What's interesting – and maybe a bit concerning – about these figures is that there is a gap between how CIOs and their non-technical senior leadership counterparts answered that question. 42% of CIOs said they were viewed by others as strategic. But only 30% of senior business leaders agreed.

"Perception disconnect: 42% of CIOs/IT leaders believe IT is considered a strategic partner; however, only 30% of non-IT senior business leaders agree."

Given that most IT professionals chose their career paths because of a deep affinity for technology and its possibilities, along with the fact organizations are increasingly reaping the benefits of breakthrough technology, we can expect to see these numbers continuing to shift toward strategic. The perceptual gap will close, as well.

As a result, “order taker IT” will largely become a thing of the past, as it should. What are the chances of business leaders arriving at optimal, IT-dependent strategies and roadmaps without the close participation of IT leadership? Relegating IT in this way is a recipe for sub-optimal implementations, with CIOs stuck in an inappropriately “yesterday” mode.

To advance IT, take charge of the (internal and external) customer experience

While some may assume that “order takers” are being held back by their organizations, that’s not typically the case. The same study showed 77% of non-IT business leaders say that CIO success should be measured primarily by the degree to which it drives improvements to the customer experience. That coincidentally happens to be a primary goal among senior leaders for the business as a whole.

Leader success metricsThis means that CIOs in most organizations have the essential “permission” to move squarely into the “strategic IT” group rather than being held back, given they align their personal priorities with those of the business. 

There is of course much work ahead in making such a move: drawing up long-range roadmaps, securing budgets, and successfully demonstrating to business leadership partners the benefits of technology undertakings. 

CIOs who succeed in these undertakings solidify their companies’ positions with both internal and external customers, while also empowering their staffs to deliver more fully on the promise of technological possibilities – a win-win for all concerned. 

Speaking personally as a marketing leader at Windstream Enterprise – a company differentiated by delivery of a superior customer experience, in an industry typically thought of as anything but customer centric – we look to our own IT counterparts for insight into leveraging technology to our customers’ advantage. Now, having participated in this study, I know I’ll appreciate their input even more. 

If you’d like further insight, I’d encourage you to read the full results of the Forrester Consulting study, commissioned by Windstream Enterprise, CIOs Earn A Strategic Seat At The Executive Table Through Enterprise Leadership. It’s also a good piece to share with others on your leadership team.