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IT Leadership // IT Strategy
09:06 AM
Paige Francis
Paige Francis

Hey IT Leaders, Don't Worry About Titles

CIOs, or whatever we'll be called in five years, should ignore the hype about titles and laser-focus on being great business partners.

Maybe I'm projecting, but I feel I'm seeing more hype surrounding the doomed fate of IT leaders than I did about MOOCs and infographics combined. CIOs this, CMOs that. Chief Information Officers. Innovation Officers. Intelligence Officers. Stop, stop, stop. 

It's clear that IT leadership has changed over the past five years. The days of puffed up self-importance, technology shock-and-awe, and profuse use of acronyms are gone. Nobody's impressed. As a Southern girl, I can attest to being cranky when hungry, and I am actually hungry right now, so that might be making me cranky. But enough is enough with the over-analysis of C-suite titles and their roles in technology and innovation.

[Tech leaders should constantly be connecting the dots. Read CIOs: Always Be Strategizing.]

Titles be damned. Here's what you really need to focus on as a true technology leader...

Know your business
What value do you bring in your chosen business? Find your peers, know your peers, build relationships with your peers. Know their data, know your data, compare your data, and set benchmarks. Know who you're doing better than, and, more importantly, know if your competition is lapping you.

Put dollars to time saved, processes honed, inefficiencies overcome. When your project delivers great ROI, shout it from the rooftops (not literally).

Enter into conversations with your finance leaders about how using new cloud technology will be beneficial but will make funding more difficult. Remind your marketing team how technology lends itself to agility in today's very social marketplace. Talk with process leaders on how technology can assist them in working smarter. Really listen, finding the discussion "sweet spots" where you can drop in your knowledge and data appropriately. This shows you know your business, and your value.

Stay engaged
Mix and mingle with your colleagues. It's important to stay on top of technology trends and forecasts, but it's just as important to know your people. Know their needs, wants, and goals, and pave a way for them to reach their goals through the most effective use of technology. Always undersell and over-deliver. Think the project will be complete in 10 days? Commit to two weeks -- and be done in less. 

In addition, never adopt a technology solution to replace an old-school process that might just need to be eliminated altogether. If a process is cumbersome and ineffective, simply replacing it with new technology won't fix it. For example, if high-powered printer maintenance is costing money and man hours to sustain with only adequate printing options, it'll make more sense to use a third-party cloud-based printer service over purchasing new printers on a regular basis.

Be present
And I don't just mean hover in meetings and throw out occasional sound bites to passively declare your presence. Be a valued resource and a business partner. Is the purchasing team struggling with asset tracking? Is the annual employee evaluation process considered cumbersome and paper-laden? Are the analysts reporting different statistics when pulling the same criteria?

These are all perfect opportunities for a discussion about adding value via technology. If you're not "at the table" you're likely not adding value. Just be everything, to everyone, all the time! No pressure. OK, I'm being a bit sarcastic, but more and more these days, being on top of everything is a common expectation for tech leaders. If this sounds like too much, you might want to rethink your path, because technology isn't slowing down, and neither are the expectations set on its leaders.

The best medicine for curing today's often too-high expectations is cultivating the right support team. If you haven't placed a large emphasis on growing an agile, flexible team that's hyper-aware that technology drives change, now is the time. These are the people who will be beating expectations while the leader focuses on the industry at the top-level.

Ultimately, your title will naturally morph into whatever it needs to be. Don't waste precious time over-thinking labels when time is better spent thinking about strategy, talent management, and integration. The chief information officers (or whatever we'll be called) of today and tomorrow understand digital and like to communicate. We are approachable and enthusiastic about the business. The titles will roll with the tides. Ride the wave and ignore the hype. 

Trying to meet today's business technology needs with yesterday's IT organizational structure is like driving a Model T at the Indy 500. Time for a reset. Read our Transformative CIOs Organize For Success report today. (Free registration required.)

Paige Francis is the CIO for IT Services at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. She has a wide range of experience including defining and implementing strategic priorities for applying technology in any environment, rallying consensus across diverse interests, and ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Author
6/12/2014 | 10:48:35 AM
Right On
Amen to this. There's so much fretting over the CIO title -- unless you own the trademark on "CIO", why would anyone care what this "business technology leader" type role is called? People in tech stew about losing their relevance. Meanwhile, people in every other job in the company worry that they're not tech savvy enough! 
User Rank: Author
6/12/2014 | 10:47:47 AM
Paige, what a refreshing dose of common sense! I especially like this advice: "Be present
And I don't just mean hover in meetings and throw out occasional sound bites to passively declare your presence."

You're right, titles have been a debate in IT for a long time, but it comes down to the relationships you build personally. I recently met a CIO who was working hand-in-hand with the CMO. Clearly they both have the intellect and the emotional IQ to work together for the business. There is no "Will the CMO beat the CIO?" question in this organization. They have solved that problem before it started.


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