I am very pleased to announce the launch of my first book The Beast Code: 4 Simple Keys to Unlock Motivation That Lasts So You Can Finally Dominate Your Side Hustle. From the time I first put pen to paper with the idea, it took me about a year to get it published. It wasn’t all […]
Do you consider the role of the CIO as focusing on creating value through technology, or first and foremost running an efficient IT shop?
This is the question that was posed to a CIO discussion group on LinkedIn. The discussion was extremely lively and there were tons of insightful, intelligent responses favoring both sides of the question. Below is my take on these responses and my reaction to them.
Core IT First, Add Value Second
Many replied that a CIO must focus on running an efficient IT shop FIRST, or else he/she will never have the credibility and trust with the other C-Suite executives and board members to get approval for “value add” activities. There is some truth to this statement. Certainly credibility can be damaged if users are constantly frustrated with unreliable systems and poor support. However, generating business value through technology is not some lofty goal that can only be achieved AFTER core IT processes are perfected. On the contrary, business value should be the driver for all IT activities. For example, suppose some IT systems supporting complex, unique back-office functionality are not running smoothly. A lot of time and energy can be expended focusing on getting these systems to run smoothly. A focus on business value allows a CIO to evaluate the business processes themselves and not just the IT systems that support them. If these unique processes are not differentiators for the business, business value can be generated by simplifying and standardizing these complex processes instead of supporting them with complex IT solutions. Of course, that same CIO will need to be equipped with some good communication and persuasion skills in order to convince some IT consumers within the business to part ways with these pet processes.
CIO Is Strategic, Managers Are Operational
Many comments stressed generating business value through technology as the most important job of the CIO. Many commenters agreed that the business value-focused CIO should delegate operational aspects of IT to a capable operations manager. In other words, the “real” job of the CIO is to generate value for the business through technology while day-to-day operations are a distraction. While I agree the “real” job of the CIO is to generate value for the business, I disagree that the CIO gets to have all the fun! Generating value for the business is everyone’s job – not just C-Suite executives. The next great innovative idea to reach new customers, offer new products, or expand to new geographies may exist in the mind of someone lower in the organization than the executive level. It would be a shame for the business to lose out on these great ideas because the CIO is a “business value hog”.
The Conflict Resolved
Because of the way the question was posed, many of the responses favored one side or the other. Some commenters recognized this fact and pointed out that the question is really a false dichotomy. Many agreed that running an efficient IT shop and generating value for the business through technology are harmonious goals that need not be placed at odds with each other. Running an efficient IT shop generates value. If you truly focus on business value, you will not ignore running your IT shop smoothly. Although the question may not have been perfect, it was good to see so many willing to take a step back and exchange ideas on IT leadership.
Now it’s your turn.
What do you think should be the primary focus of a CIO?
In 1997, IBM created a computer that was able to beat the world champion Garry Kasparov for the first time and it only cost them $10 million to do it! Today, because of computing advances, commercially available chess programs running on standard hardware can consistently beat even the best human players. The cold, calculating precision of the machine is just too much for the human player.
Our deep-rooted mistrust of the coldness of machines prohibits us from turning over our most trusted decision-making to them. In the 2004 movie I, Robot, Will Smith’s character, Detective Del Spooner expresses this sentiment while describing an incident where he was rescued from a sinking automobile by a robot. The robot decided to save the detective instead of a young girl in the same situation based on a calculation of chance of survival. Regarding the girl’s low chance of survival compared to his own, Spooner says:
11% is more than enough. A human being would have known that.
Is there any reconciliation between man and machine? Surprisingly, McAfee points to recent research that a partnership between man and machine is not only possible, but may be the most powerful combination available. In chess competitions allowing any combination of humans and machines, it was found that a human plus a weak laptop were able to consistently beat even the strongest computers.
McAfee’s post is fascinating and worth a read. I encourage you to check it out.
So what do you think? Is it possible for humans to embrace a partnership with computers?
I’ve recently been introduced to a useful tool that helps me make better decisions based on business strategy and value. The great thing about this tool is you don’t have to be a manager or executive in order to use it. People at every level of an organization make decisions in their day-to-day activities that can have profound effect on organizational success. This tool is called the Purpose Alignment Model and it was created by CIO Niel Nickolaisen. Using this model, teams can discover the purpose and strategy of their overall organization, and then make decisions based on that purpose.
The Purpose Alignment Model
The model consists of two axes with regions divided into four quadrants. First, the “‘market differentiating” axis displays the degree to which a particular activity differentiates you in the marketplace. In other words, this activity helps you gain market share. These are the things that make you “different” or “special”. The second axis is the degree to which activities are mission critical. In other words, while they don’t help you gain market share, these activities are important and the business will be put at risk if they are not done well.
About the Quadrants
- The highly differentiating, highly mission critical activities are the truly differentiating activities of the organization. These are the activities where the organization needs to excel and innovate and be the best. Creativity and experimentation in tactics and analytics to measure the success of these activities should abound in this quadrant.
- The highly mission critical, low differentiating activities are “parity” activities. While these activities are highly valuable to the organization, they do not derive their value from being unique or special. On the contrary, these activities derive value from adhering to industry best practices and standards and being simplified as much as possible.
- Highly differentiating activities that are not mission critical require some thought to determine if they should be taken on or not. These are opportunities to partner with another entity to add this capability and eventually move it into the “differentiating” quadrant.
- Finally, anything that doesn’t differentiate you and isn’t mission critical is something you should stop doing.
Applying the Model
The first thing you have to do is determine the one or two things you do that are truly differentiating for your organization. Yes, it will be only one or two things. You can’t be the best at everything.
The next thing you do is find out where your activities fit into the model and agree to treat them accordingly. Don’t be disheartened that a lot of activities fall into the “parity” quadrant. Just understand that simplifying and standardizing parity activities will free capacity for you to use your creativity to excel at your differentiating areas.
I’ve just provided a brief introduction to this model here and I highly recommend the following resources for more information.
Breaking the Project Management Triangle – InformIT article
Four Things a CIO Can Do To Deliver Immediate Business Value – Video presentation hosted on on24.com. Requires registration with an email address to view. It is about 50 minutes in length but very entertaining. This is the only place I know of where this presentation can be viewed. I searched for a YouTube version with no luck.
What do you think of Nickolaisen’s model? In what ways do you think it might help your organization make better decisions? Do you disagree with the model? Do you think I need art lessons? Please feel free to share and comment.