The CIO balancing act: agility, innovation, cost savings

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CIO Big Data Analytics

When I look at the role of the CIO and the role of senior IT management in 2015, I see a delicate balancing act required between institutional (or corporate) agility, innovation, and cost savings. The CIO has to "get" all three and maintain the appropriate balance there. Let me define what I mean by those three terms.

  1. Agility: Agility is the ability to sense a change in the environment, leverage an opportunity to add business value, and then to move rapidly on to the next project. We have shorter and shorter windows to deliver to our organizations, so the days of $5 million budgets and five years to build a project are gone. Your work has to be much faster, much more responsive, much more agile. That requires a different approach to risk management, software development, and leadership.
  2. Innovation: When you look at the innovation component of success today, of doing transformational innovation, you’re really not innovating unless you’re failing occasionally. If you think about that for a second, a culture that drives fast-hit, agile projects and a culture that drives innovative, transformational projects may be at odds, so you’re going to have to manage that tension within the organization.
  3. Cost Savings: There’s no doubt that certain things IT is doing today are moving into the commodity range, and there is just relentless pressure to cut costs associated with those commodity components.  Again, if you look at risk management or project management associated with those items, you’re going to find a different culture associated with that.  And the CIO has to balance all of them, as well as balancing external expectations. It can be a very delicate walk to maintain when you’ve got people associated with IT that is more commoditized asking why they’re getting cut after cut when someone else in the organization is seeing healthy budget growth.

Here’s an example. I was talking with a CIO friend. Half of his business is financial transactions that have to be exactly right, which drives a pretty conservative IT methodology. The other half of his business is deploying mobile apps that provide access to a range of services, which have an average life span of less than 90 days. Clearly, he has to take a completely different approach in how those services are delivered, how much risk he’s willing to take, and how much time and money he will put into something that, 90 days from now he’s retiring or replacing.

What is the leadership challenge for a CIO in 2015? For me it’s keeping everyone aligned, on board and in agreement to be transformational in their own way.


Curtis A. Carver Jr., Ph.D. is the Vice Chancellor and Chief Information Officer for the Board of Regents of University System of Georgia (USG). In this capacity, he oversees a statewide educational infrastructure and service organization with more than 190 innovators and more than $75 million annual investment in higher education. He also provides technical oversight of the USG Shared Services Center. Dr. Carver has led the transformation of IT services by partnering with USG business owners, institutions, and other state agencies to jointly solve problems.

Curtis A. Carver Jr., Ph.D. is the Vice President and Chief Information Officer for the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In this role servant leader and enabler of others, he leads a team of dedicated professionals focused on providing solution to the UAB through world-class IT with a focus on innovation, agility and cost efficiency.