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Technology and enterprise IT are going through dramatic and rapid changes. What does that mean to the role of the CIO? It means taking a second look at both your team and your relationship to your business counterparts, according to Joel Dolisy, CIO of the infrastructure management software company SolarWinds. In an interview, he explains how today's CIOs must evolve to keep pace with their organizations.
The Enterprisers Project (TEP): As technology becomes more of an enabler, how is the CIO role evolving?
Dolisy: It is critical for the CIO to translate the benefits and drawbacks of technologies and their impact on the business, as the technology landscape is evolving more rapidly than ever. The CIO role is evolving more and more to partner with the different parts of the business and help ensure that each group has the right access to technology.
Sometimes this means involving IT operations in an application roll-out, but it also sometimes means helping a group make use of an external application that may not have gone through the regular IT approval cycle. Being part of an agile organization means that the CIO needs to be an active participant in the different initiatives that are supporting the growth of the company.
TEP: IT departments these days are expected to keep essential technology running at all times. How can CIOs handle this need for high availability?
Dolisy: Businesses operate on a 24x7 schedule; there is no down time allowed anymore. Business processes that used to rely on nightly batch processing are being replaced by real-time solutions.
It is imperative for CIOs to plan on high-availability for their IT infrastructure and also their teams. CIOs usually work really hard on developing a robust infrastructure, but often overlook the importance of removing a single point of failures from their team.
TEP: We all know not all technology works perfectly all the time. How can CIOs balance this reality against the needs of the C-Suite?
Dolisy: Communication, process, and innovation are key ingredients necessary in building a strong organization. Problems will happen, so a clear communication strategy needs to be put in place to communicate details about outages as soon as they happen. Communication should be proactive, and it should not happen only in response to external requests.
Processes are important to ensure that the right people will start working on issues the minute they happen and that issues are prioritized appropriately. Part of the process should also include a feedback loop that ensures that the team learns from the problems. This should not be a blame session, but rather a step in the process that is used to really understand what caused the issue and what could be done to avoid it in the future.
Innovation is a key element of the strategy. Innovation should not only apply to technology but equally to business processes. There is always room for improvements and those should not be dictated from the top. The best people to suggest improvements are usually the ones doing the job, so it is important to have a culture that promotes innovative ideas.
TEP: Should the CIO be the guiding voice for the C-suite when it comes to technology?
Dolisy: CIOs should certainly be a sounding board for adopting new technologies and evaluating their impact on the business. But the CIO is not the only role in the C-suite that is responsible for that. CSOs, CDOs and CMOs are all making technology decisions that impact their respective organizations within the business. It is crucial for CIOs to partner with each of their counterparts in the organization to help them achieve maximum impact with their technology choices.
TEP: Any advice you'd offer CIOs about thriving in the performance economy?
Dolisy: It is important for CIOs to not live within the bubble of their IT environments. IT is a means to an end and therefore it is important for the CIO to reach out across the organization and collaborate with the different departments on their initiatives. It is also crucial for the CIO to stay abreast of the technology landscape and its evolution, as well as how competitors are leveraging technology to gain competitive advantages.
In summary, it is extremely important for CIOs to focus outside of their own departments.
Joel Dolisy is a senior vice president and CTO and CIO at SolarWinds, a leading IT management software provider based in Austin, Texas. Dolisy leads the technical and technological strategy for the engineering group. He is also responsible for the strategy and delivery of the internal business and online systems that SolarWinds relies on for its daily operations. Dolisy has spent more than 16 years in the IT management industry.