Hunter Muller on 5 Things CIOs Must Do Now to Remain Relevant

Aug 3, 2015
8 Min Read

No one disputes that it’s important to align business and technology, but a new book says it’s time to realize that IT is the business no matter the industry -- and that’s why CIOs are so critical to an organization’s success.

Having your department compared to the DMV isn’t very flattering, but that’s what is happening to many IT departments.

That’s because many CIOs are focused on the technology and they don’t really care about the user experience, hence the DMV reference.

The comparison is made in a new book, “The Big Shift in IT Leadership,” by author Hunter Muller, who contends that many CIOs remain focused inward, only concerned with technology. But a small portion of CIOs “see the writing on the wall,” and know they need to “play the game at a higher level” by shifting their focus outward to provide a stellar customer experience, he says.

While Muller acknowledges that undertaking a more customer-centric focus is a “huge plate shift” for CIOs, it is one that must take place not only for a CIO’s own career trajectory, but also for the health of their company.

“CIOs need to be ready to disrupt, facilitate and innovate,” Muller says. “They need to be recruiting, retaining and growing future IT talent. They need to communicate better. They need be passionate about the business – fearless and tenacious.”

The best CIOs, he says, know that results beat out technology. Having great technology doesn’t mean much if customers aren’t having a good user experience, because they will leave for the competition, he says.

“Speeds and feeds are fine, but having great metrics won’t pay the bills,” Muller says. “Today’s businesses focus on delighting customers, because that is how you make the most money.”

While embracing such new challenges may be daunting for some CIOs, Muller notes that “the really neat thing about CIOs is that they have total visibility across the organization.” He explains that with the access, CIOs have a golden opportunity to help develop innovative strategies and spur collaborations that will have a big impact on the organization’s overall success.

“Today, IT really matters. It matters to the top line and to the bottom line. When IT has a bad day, the company has a bad day. When IT is on a roll, the company is on a roll,” Muller says.

In Muller’s book, he makes several suggestions for those CIOs who are ready to make the ‘big shift” to key leadership within an organization. Among them:

  1. Build bridges. CEOs want trusted advisors around them and CIOs need to find ways to fit themselves into this role. If everyone in the C-suite plays golf or owns a sports car, do the same, Muller advises. This helps a CEO feel more comfortable that you’re more than a “techie” and will fit easily into the inner circle. But this is just the beginning – now you must learn to speak the language of the CEO and other top managers. How will you help accelerate growth? How can analytics delivered by IT add value by helping to drive growth? Remember: IT is expected to function – now you’ve got to do more and show how you can drive better business results.
  2. Surround yourself with great people. The war for IT talent is real and ongoing, but will become even more of a factor as you expand your role and that of IT. You must double-down on your efforts to understand what motivates your current team – and what will attract those who can help you deliver what is needed for the business to thrive. Are mid-level managers helping to develop new talent – or are they undermining new workers?
  3. Drive innovation. It can be difficult for CIOs to align IT with other departments because they don’t want to surrender control of IT projects, or they struggle to define innovation in non-technical terms. “The truth is that the definition of innovation isn’t set in stone,” he says, adding that CIOs must understand how the business defines innovation and not get stuck in a “perfect-world” version of innovation. But with the broad view that CIOs usually have of the business, they are in a unique position to see the possibilities for new business products or services and to help come up with tech solutions that help boost productivity or makes processes easier.
  4. Accept cybersecurity responsibilities. CIOs can no longer sidestep cybersecurity concerns and hand them over to security or risk officers. Senior leaders and a board of directors will expect the CIO to be prepared to handle any issues and resolve them quickly. Staff needs to be trained to be aware of the dangers, how to recognize a cyberattack and how to respond.
  5. Make big data accessible. Muller says he hears from more CIOs that the C-suite wants better tools for visualizing data. It’s more than creating charts or dashboards – it’s a strategic function. It’s critical to understand how your organization uses data and how you can make it effective. Visualization helps to spot patterns in data, communicate it within the organization and share data with customers.

Finally, CIOs must master the art of telling a story that is compelling to others in the organization. In other words, they must be able to consistently tell how their strategy will move the organization forward and how it is attainable. Without it, Muller says, IT will become as highly regarded as the DMV.

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