The Changing Role of the CIO in Today’s Global Marketplace

The Changing Role of the CIO in Today’s Global Marketplace

If you think your job as CIO is to keep the company's information technology systems up to date and running 24/7, you are obsolete. 

The current content of the CIO's work doesn't cut it in today's environment. To be successful, you must reinvent your work skills and mindset for the new game, where the external environment moves faster than ever and a company’s most enduring strengths can become irrelevant in a flash. 
Senior executives face the immense challenge to reinvent the company in synch with these changes.  In a digitized, analyzed, data-fied world, they need your help.  You need to be a partner in keeping the company on the offense.  
Your function as a CIO is now central to the survivability for your corporation. How, then, should you re-conceptualize your job as CIO? What new skills do you need to contribute to the executive team?

Keeping systems running at lowest cost and least capital intensity compared to the competition is a given. You need people in your organization to focus on these efficiencies and to extend them to your corporation's ecosystem.  Suppliers, too, must be lowest cost, least capital intensity, with reliable delivery and fast cycle responsive. 
If you do an excellent job on these items you get a C+. That's just for encouragement. Unless you become customer centric, you fail.  There is a fight underway for the potential of every customer. What matters is how that customer views your company compared to the competition.  
In this day and age, many of the competitive advantages that came out of barriers to entry are evaporating. The only way out of "commodity hell" (as one CEO I know put it) is to continually adapt to customers’ changing needs.  This is where you can help, and here is what you need to consider doing:

1. Get to know the customer

You must become a student of your company's customers, their buying habits and what they think of your competitors. Years ago I interacted with the CIO at McDonald's who had a routine discipline to go to stores and stand in line with customers. He observed customers and studied each aspect of their behavior, from the ordering process to their interaction with employees throughout the visit. He also closely watched people working behind the counter and considered how to make the process better. You must treat your company's interactions with customers with a similar lab-like format. 

2. Use big data to reach across silos

To be an effective CIO in today's marketplace, you must work with your peers to utilize big data. Simply providing team members with software and tools is not enough. What differentiates next level CIOs is their ability to take big data and sift through it to draw interferences that are useful and implementable. Make marketing and sales people your partners to help them be more predictive. Creating the right algorithms and connecting key team members to the right software is the juice of life for companies. No company does this better today than Amazon, which sorts immense amounts of data from retail customers to better serve them. The information engine there is making it a winner against those who don't have it, in the same way the assembly line made Henry Ford a runaway success.

3. Stay on the cutting edge

Are you spending 60% of your time interacting with peers and customers and learning new technologies? If not, you must make this change immediately. It is important not just to focus on developing general management and leadership skills. Those are important, but it is more important that you are able to lead in areas of new technology. You can't apply those technologies to your business without being on the cutting edge. Your ability to understand new technology and its application to your customers is what will catapult your role from technical support to leader on the executive team.
Your willingness to learn and change will keep you in the game.  
Ram Charan is an adviser to CEOs, and co-author with Larry Bossidy of the best-selling book Execution. Learn more at

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