10 lessons for IT leaders from CIOChat Live

Top CIOs examined some of today's thorniest challenges - from change management to security - at the recent CIOChat Live conference. Here's a look at what's working and what isn't
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Pictured at CIOChat Live, (left to right): consultant Isaac Sacolick, Korn Ferry's Melissa Swift, Verizon Media CIO Ben Haines, and analyst Jack Gold.

When top CIOs get together to talk lessons learned, you’d better listen – if you are an IT leader intent on expanding your perspective and improving your team’s performance. Last week, CIOChat – the longstanding Twitter chat – brought its participating CIOs together in person for the first time, at Boston College, and we at The Enterprisers Project were excited to take part.

Our hosts, moderator Myles Suer and Boston College CTO Peter Salvitti, put together a strong lineup of CIOs and analysts to talk digital transformation, agile, security, IT talent, and other challenges. Some of our Enterprisers Project authors – such as Korn Ferry digital transformation expert Melissa Swift, and CIOs Jay Ferro, Jonathan Feldman, and Jason James – took part as speakers.

In the spirit of our IT leadership community, we wanted to share some of the strategies and nuggets of wisdom these CIOs and other experts shared during the two-day conference – on 10 key areas facing today’s CIOs and IT leaders. (If you want to check out #CIOChat on Twitter, it's Thursdays at 2 PM EST.)

Now, let’s delve into their candid and practical advice:

1. Which path is right for your digital transformation?

Stephanie Woerner, Research Scientist at MIT Sloan’s Center for Information Systems Research, has studied which paths work and which don’t. She says many companies are still in the “silos and spaghetti” stage – where you’re sorting a tangled mess of systems and data, overloading your people, and performing via heroics.

To unlock the full power of a digital business transformation, companies should aim for the "future ready" stage, where they're improving customer experience and achieving operational efficiency. This includes being both innovative and low cost, using data strategically, and being modular and agile. 

To get to that future ready stage, it's imperative to have "great IT and a great CIO," Woerner said. 

[ Want more advice from Stephanie Woerner? Read also: Digital transformation: 5 signs your organization is stalled. ]

2. What distinguishes CIOs who are are winning at transformation?

The winning formula for CIOs right now has four parts, Woerner says. A strategic CIO:

  • Works with the C-suite/executive committee to create a vision for what digital transformation will create
  • Builds digital discipline across the enterprise – not just in IT
  • Relentlessly delivers on operational efficiencies
  • Focuses on customer engagement

IT teams that have this formula down deliver 24 percent higher profitability compared to competitors, MIT research shows, according to Woerner. ( Want more data? She also noted that all MIT-CISR research is accessible to registered users 90 days after publishing.) 

3. Is your CEO just paying lip service to transformation?

Michael Krigsman, industry analyst and host of the CXOTalk podcast, led a panel on the CIO as transformational leader. Digital transformation, like agile, has become such a broad term that it’s not terribly useful anymore, some CIOs say. After all, adding a few digital tools or processes is not the point: “Business transformation is what we’re driving for,” noted Tim Crawford, CIO Strategic Advisor at AVOA.

The two hardest parts of digital transformation remain the organizational change - both poltical and cultural, Woerner said.

To deal with those challenges, you need something that’s missing in most organizations right now, says Crawford: Creativity. “We get into this mode of looking for best practices – but what should we be doing?” is the better question, he said.

A further problem: Many organizations say they want a transformational CIO - but then they bring in someone who looks a lot like the last person. As Verizon Media CIO Ben Haines noted “A lot of companies say they want transformation – but they don’t.”

[ What are the warning signs? Read also: Digital transformation: Are your people just paying lip service? ]

4. How do CIOs clear the way for change?

Given those challenges, how are CIOs getting the transformation job done right now? What distinguishes the CIOs who get past the barriers? These CIOs:

  • Earn credibility, says Verizon Media’s Haines. If the reputation of IT in your organization is “IT never delivers,” then you must change that – as a first step. 
  • Build a team that “gets” the need for transformation. Some of the IT people you inherit may not. If you're facing reluctance, make certain your teams understand the "why" behind what you're asking, otherwise "it's It’s like going to your kids and saying because I said so," said Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates
  • Avoid the “bimodal” model where one team keeps the trains running and one innovates. “It’s a ticking time bomb” noted Isaac Sacolick, president of consulting firm StarCIO, and people on both teams just get frustrated.

5. What metrics do you use to show progress on transformation?

As we have previously explored, old-school IT metrics ( tickets, project cost/scope, etc. ) don’t show your performance on digital transformation goals. How are leading CIOs demonstrating their teams’ progress on true business change?

“We try to focus it around customer experience,” noted Haines. At Verizon Media, IT leadership threw out measures like tickets, created a modified net promoter score, and went from there, he said. “Everything we do builds to our customer.”

In some organizations, percentage of resused technology components has also emerged as a measure, noted Woerner. Because when you encourage an IT team to reuse components - say via APIs and microservices - you’re freeing up time to innovate, she said.

Of course, Sacolick noted, CIOs must do the cultural and change management work to make sure people will buy into that strategy. “You can build APIs out and no one shows up to use them,” he noted.

A starting point, which many IT organizations skip, Crawford said, is mapping out the entire customer journey. IT is one of the few organizations that touches all the pieces of that journey, he observed. CIOs need to build alignment around those metrics so everyone is speaking about the same metrics – “and they’re business metrics,” Crawford said.

Or as City of Asheville CIO Jonathan Feldman said, the metrics are about “CSAT, CSAT, and CSAT.” If an IT leader’s customers aren’t satisfied, you can’t build credibility to experiment – and experimentation is key to real change.

Laurianne McLaughlin is Editorial Director, Digital Communities for Red Hat, leading content strategy. Previously, she served as Content Director for The Enterprisers Project, Editor-in-Chief at InformationWeek.com, and Managing Editor at CIO.com.