I’m very passionate about helping my CIO community evolve because I believe that many of us in the CIO and CTO seats have been allowed (or worse, asked) to become vendor managers. And that is not what the vast majority of companies are going to need moving forward.
You’re always going to find exceptions, and there always will be a company here or there that is either so profitable that innovation doesn’t matter to them or they are happy with their little niche and don’t really want to push the envelope. But the vast majority of enterprises are looking to grow, do have a board to answer to, and do have shareholders to be held accountable to – so we should realize we are here to help our company grow, expand our margins and build our top-line revenue and bottom-line profitability.
The end of back-office IT. Really.
How do you get there? As a CIO, part of your job today is becoming uncomfortable with yourself. You have to push the envelope. You have to get out of your comfort zone. You have to reinvent yourself and your teams and the way you work. If you don’t, don’t be surprised when your CMO or the CRO or marketing or product teams get so frustrated that they start going outside of IT to third parties for all your company’s innovative projects.
You need to drive that business-IT alignment, because no one will ever be as aligned with the goals of internal revenue or product teams than your internal IT team. You work for the company. You’re paid from the results of your company. You’re not off at a third-party company just trying to make more money from that account. And if you’re not pushing the envelope and creating new capabilities that didn’t exist before, you need to be pushing for cultural change.
Take open source software. Open source software, in my opinion, is a fascinating basis of an ‘uncomfortable’ conversation. For example, “Let’s talk about the difference between an open source database and a proprietary packaged database. Let’s look at the costs. And let’s look at the pros and cons.” It’s a great philosophical dialogue that speaks to the enormity of the cultural divide that exists in many organizations.
There is a very different mindset at work when you take IT out of an operating mode of, “Let’s run a bunch of packaged solutions that we’ve bought and stood up” to “Let’s build and create new capabilities that didn’t exist before.” If you look at the vast majority of startups, they’re not starting with giant, shrink-wrapped software packages as the base of their company. If you’re trying to create innovation inside of a large enterprise then you shouldn’t start with that either.
It’s 2015. You’re not here to run the mainframe anymore. You’re not here to run the servers. You’re not here to run the data center, or the network, or operations. That is table stakes. That’s what you can outsource.
What IT organizations have to do now is become Chief Innovation shops. And to do that, you cannot have the mindset of running a data center and being innovative at the same time – they are just too different. You can change your team. You can transform your team. And you can take many of your people along with you on that journey. In fact you should. But you have to be willing to have some very difficult conversations. That’s part of leadership. That’s why you have a "C" in your title.
This Harvard Business Review report explores the disconnect between how CIOs currently spend their time and how business leaders believe they should spend their time: "Leading Innovation."