CIO’s and EA – Leadership Challenges in IT

We ask a lot of our CIOs.  Just follow the myriad magazine articles and research pieces targeting CIOs to read of the breadth and depth of expectations heaped upon a single role.   The industry experts who define what CIOs “should be” suggest that they must be technology visionaries and innovators, business transformation change agents, vendor relationship negotiators, savvy business managers and human capital performance motivators, cost-cutters, quality experts, portfolio managers, talent scouts, have operations and service management knowledge, be technology, process and solutions aware, passionate leaders and experts on the company’s industry, etc.  The list goes on.  Actually, I agree with all of these traits and more – they are all required.   It’s a tough job and can’t easily be characterized into a simple role description.

As a case in point, I have been following Bob Evans’ column in Information Week of late.  I enjoy his perspectives.  His most recent column, “Do CIOs Still Matter” , struck a chord in me.  He listed ten ideas to get started redefining a CIOs roles and boundaries.  Many of his points spoke to things that we have been coaching our Enterprise Architecture clients on for years.  In particular, he commented that today’s CIOs “spend too much time on the tech side of IT and should instead be more involved in technology-enabled business growth and customer intimacy”.  Other points included “lead the charge in seeing the future”, “drive transformation” and my favorite, “be a business-model buster”.

So, what is the CIO to do?  How can a CIO be tactical and strategic, responsive yet not reactionary, thoughtful and systematic yet not slow and obstructionist, operational and also transformational, cost-sensitive while investment and growth oriented?  The simple answer is that in all but the most extraordinary individuals, it isn’t possible, or it is at least unlikely that all of the required personality traits and knowledge can co-exist.  The best approach to being broad and deep enough is to surround him/herself with a strong team, with each member focused on different aspects of the role.   The best CIOs are already doing this, realizing that the CIO role isn’t intended to be a single super-human (though many white papers seem to suggest that and some CIOs try to become one) but is instead an aggregation of the skills and talents of a group. Traditionally, that group is called the “Office of the CIO”.

Many CIO’s already recognize that they can’t personally be everything to everyone and that they must have a great staff.  Most CIOs put a director in charge of the data center with a focus on operational efficiency and meeting service levels.  One or more directors are usually focused on solutions development and delivery.  The better organizations have a PMO in place to shepherd the project portfolio, though most PMO’s are low maturity engaging in mainly project tracking and reporting.  More on that in a future article.  What is missing in most CIO Offices is a person responsible for the big picture future state business context, the holistic cross enterprise perspective, the long view of the health and utility of the asset portfolio, and to address larger concerns like complexity management, portfolio optimization, integration, and the integrity of the information, technology and business architecture assets.  These activities and perspectives are embodied in the role Tim and I have prescribed to the “enterprise” architect since we began in this discipline in the 1990’s.

While empowering a diverse IT leadership team is necessary, successful CIOs also understand that the buck stops with them, so they need to be able to make sound decisions when the rest of their staff doesn’t.  One powerful way to be sure the staff can address all the perspectives above, including the longer term, holistic enterprise view, is to elevate the Chief Architect to be a full member of the Office of the CIO.  If you have an EA function, but it is doing only the subset of enterprise architecture that we describe as “IT” architecture ( which usually means they reside several levels down in your organization)  then augment their skills and personnel and have them engage in the strategic and business-oriented discussions described above.  You will find them to be a valuable addition to your core team.

Stay tuned, we will be writing a lot more on the placement of EA in the Office of the CIO, the complimentary roles that exist in the Office, the dynamics, politics and culture of the team at that level, and the processes, perspectives, and leadership skills required for that team to support the breadth and depth of activities expected of the modern CIO.

2 thoughts on “CIO’s and EA – Leadership Challenges in IT”

    • Thanks for your comments. While I had not read Andy’s article, I certainly have now. I appreciate the link. It’s clear that we certainly agree on the value and importance of EA moving in to the Office of the CIO. While I have seen some progress on that front in the last 5-10 years, the structure still isn’t as common as I’d like. Too many EA groups are still doing IT architecture (vs. Enterprise Architecture) and are positioned one of more levels down from the Office of the CIO. While it is possible for even those groups to demonstrate value, the going would be easier for them if they were positioned at a level where they could have broader impact. At a lower level they just have to work extra hard at exposing their strategic perspectives and building a network of relationships. The reality is that groups usually need to earn there way to that level, and luckily we have many thoughts, tips and techniques for them on how to do so.

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