Infrastructure POD
Erin Geiger, Director of Content at Lumos

CIO as a Strategic Business Partner: Aligning Technology and Business Goals

The CIO is not just the new company changemaker, they’re the new rainmaker. No longer a passive voice bent on maintaining legacy systems, the CIO is a revenue generator who impacts topline growth–and the entire employee experience. Part change manager, part strategist, the CIO brings good change–transformation, even–to set a business up for success in a very unpredictable world.

Often unrecognized contributors, CIOs are key influencers in whether a business survives or thrives. Think about it this way: In March 2020, companies had to scramble to create and accommodate a remote workforce. Without the right tools, employees couldn’t work. Without solid security and compliance procedures in place that worked outside of an office, the company was even more at risk than it was just a few weeks prior. Many CIOs were laying that foundation long before a distributed workforce became necessary, allowing them to pivot easily using zero-trust security models and cloud-based tools. Others played catch up–and it showed.

As an economic downturn and corresponding layoffs loom, CIOs–and their digital transformation strategies–will again rise in importance. Now is the time for CIOs to capitalize on this opportunity to use technology to strengthen their organizations–and make their marks as true business partners. 

Go beyond basic

“IT is a cost center.” For decades, executives just assume this is true–and it is if IT is only managing basic technology functions and risks. But becoming a business partner requires CIOs to deliver business value. Technology used to be relegated to a silo in the IT department, but it now touches every part of the organization. According to Deloitte, high-performing CIOs are 2.5 times more likely to make technology a top focus to advance business goals. The CIOs who map solutions to business goals, and work with their IT teams to deliver tools that make employees’ lives easier, will shake the cost center stigma.

While CIOs must design systems that reach business goals, more tools equal more risk. In addition to systems and infrastructure, employees are using an average of 110 SaaS apps for work. The CIO must manage a complex technology ecosystem that can also change and scale with the company, give employees the tools they need, and stay secure and compliant.

In our conversation with Kevin Smith, CIO of Cloudera, he suggested that amongst this very real world of application sprawl, portfolio rationalization is a huge effort that must be undertaken. Analyze the what and the why behind the portfolio and ask yourself if the value and cost proposition add up. Further, he suggests creating and adopting an application lifecycle. Kevin explains, “This lifecycle rationalizes the portfolio at pre-procurement and pre-renewal stages with the focus of removing redundancies and low value/cost applications. An additional benefit of these gates is the ability for Information Security to reassess the vendor’s security practices and compliance.

Kevin Smith, CIO of Cloudera, suggests that amongst this very real world of application sprawl, portfolio rationalization is a huge effort that must be undertaken.

Identifying the CIO as the designated responsible individual for all application spend, kicks off an engagement with the business to drive accountability across the organization. This creates alignment around the need and drives adoption of the lifecycle.”

Build the CEO relationship

Technology is integral to a successful business strategy–and CEOs know it. Faced with layoffs and the need to cut costs, CEOs also need to ensure that they’re not hampering the organization’s ability to grow. The CIO’s ability to purchase and leverage technology that maximizes return on investment has a huge impact on a company’s scalability. This is why 40% of CEOs see CIOs as key drivers of business strategy, more than all other members of the C-suite combined. They want a strong relationship with their CIOs, which means CIOs must proactively lead innovation while being realistic about deliverables. 

Per Kevin, CIOs have been asked to drive efficiencies in software and cloud spend while removing manual work in the environment. The expected outcome? A more productive, focused workforce. “There’s a large focus on the customer journey, looking at ways to build a pipeline and shift prospects to customers driving latency out of the Sales process. Many CIOs are working to increase the nimbleness of sales technology to support quick changes in how products are sold and reduce time to complete new product introductions,” he says.

Be the change maker

Change is a given in any business, but technology is moving faster than any other part of the company. It’s one thing for CIOs to stay ahead of change; it’s another thing to prioritize proactive change. CIOs must find ways to add new value, not just maintain. And that means going beyond eliminating waste and unnecessary spend and actively making recommendations, finding ways to improve, and measuring tangible results. 

Moving from a reactive to proactive mentality requires CIOs to truly get a handle on what employees want and need, learn how they’re using current tools, license count, and even unsanctioned applications. Gaining that visibility requires deploying the right tools to discover shadow IT. From there, CIOs can understand the missing pieces in the employee experience and begin to deliver what employees want.

According to Deloitte, High performing CIOs are nearly three times as likely to have a market-leading ability to leverage emerging technology.

Being a change maker also requires soft skills because, let’s face it, change is hard. It involves shifting an entire company culture and the tasks people perform every day. There’s often resistance to change, especially when there’s a learning curve to adopt new tools. By learning the context of employee roles and broadcasting their strategic direction and plans for their department and the company, CIOs can then mentor team members to be change management champions. 

According to Deloitte, High performing CIOs are nearly three times as likely to have a market-leading ability to leverage emerging technology.

Empower employees

Just like sales has customers, a CIO has customers–and those are the employees who make the company run. A CIO’s job is to help employees help themselves. Employees’ baseline for understanding technology is higher than ever, which gives CIOs an inroad to implement new tools. Once CIOs understand what employees want, they can design a network of solutions that enable them to work better, faster, and more efficiently than before.

Traditionally, access requests have hindered employee and IT productivity. Employees wait for access to the apps they need to do their jobs while IT is mired in access request support tickets. However, new tools are decentralizing provisioning and deprovisioning processes, bypassing IT involvement while maintaining security and compliance. For example, Lumos is the appstore for employees, giving them a centralized location to view available apps and offering self-service provisioning requests. Lumos is easy for employees to use, which improves adoption and makes everyone productive faster. When CIOs implement simple solutions such as Lumos that allow employees to go get what they need, they will naturally adopt new tools–and CIOs will see return on investment. 

Flex the strategic muscle

For years, many CIOs have implemented piecemeal solutions or simply maintained legacy systems–and often in a silo. But here’s the problem: 66% say that legacy systems are the biggest challenge they face, and it’s those systems that prevent CIOs from having an impact. In a world where systems, tools, and processes are constantly changing, every CIO must have a plan. Rather than buying products, CIOs must create a solution-based culture and automate whenever possible, and that requires a deep understanding of the business, its customers, and how all solutions fit within that. 

Kevin shares that one of the most important strategies he has employed as CIO is leaning heavily on culture. No CIO can be successful on their own. Creating the right culture means truly leveraging the power of the whole team. “For example, I believe that creating a culture of ‘expect change’ breeds the behavior of technologists wanting to look around corners [to prep for what might come and have flexible options]. Most technologists don’t want to rebuild systems over and over again. When you create a culture of ‘expect change’, it encourages thought leadership to build something with great flexibility. Requests from the business are met with ‘how do I do this once and not have to do it again when it surfaces a second time’,” Kevin states.

As technology becomes more integral to how companies do business, the CIO’s job will only become more important. By linking technology to business outcomes and delivering the user experience employees want, CIOs can earn their seat at the table and become a current–and future– strategic business partner.