Analysts like to categorize. As reported in a 2016 Wall Street Journal article, Korn/Ferry categorized CIOs into four groups:
I think those categories have dated. But more importantly, CIOs are not defined as much by their traits as by their circumstances. In an ideal model, perhaps every role in every company perfectly aligns skills, proclivities, personality, and aspirations to the work. But ideal models don’t exist.
I can guarantee you that if the transformational, innovative or technology-oriented CIOs are not also commercial, then they won’t last long. Profit-making businesses need to make money, and non-profits need to at least break even. Information technology is a key to both.
The world has also changed since 2016 in profound ways, perhaps most profoundly for the CIO who must balance the disruption of supporting distributed work with no time to plan and the opportunities presented by consumers migrating quickly to digital-only models.
Distributed work and digital experience serve the same audience, it just depends on what the person is doing at the time.
The bottom line comes down to the business needing answers to serving customers with more and better digital experiences through a workforce that also requires more and better digital experiences.
So regardless of aspirations, all the Korn/Ferry CIOs must become navigators and sailors first, capable of setting a course and correcting for the unforeseen.
Few CIOs can make a choice about managing change. It is no longer change management driven by IT, but managing change that is transforming IT.
As to what kind of CIO you want to be, in the case of managing change, there are three options:
The only one that works: Embrace it. The other two remain legitimate choices that some may select, perhaps arguing that waiting out the disruption will offer a better post-crisis position because competitors will be spent from their thrashing about during the disruption. That is a position that first assumes the business can live through the change and come out on the other side with the resources to carry on.
Most businesses will find waiting while the world changes around them a difficult position to maintain. And with so many disruptions, the question must be asked: When do things settle down enough for us to reassert ourselves?
The answer to that question is: no one knows.
Embracing change means being in the moment while thinking robustly about the future. While scenario planning doesn’t future-proof organizations, (I do not believe in future-proofing BTW), it does offer them a space to imaginatively explore alternatives and practice futures—and that is better than guessing about one and being wrong.
It may be possible to resist the need to manage change, but I highly recommend that you refrain from doing so. Learning how to adapt is a much more marketable skill than intransigence.
Next, there is the role to play within the organization. In the Korn/Ferry model, transformational and innovative CIOs hint of new business and the tossing out of legacy systems—movement toward the Cloud, AI, ML, RPA and other acronyms of the day.
The commercial CIO sounds stalwart and upstanding, leading IT as the infrastructure of the business—keeping costs down and doing just enough to enable the business without overstepping into thinking IT will drive the business.
In contrast, the technology-oriented CIO is probably more CTO than CIO and may actually reside along with or manage a CIO: a CIO to manage the business and a CTO to turn data and information technology into a product and a competitive weapon.
The questions here are: do you want to run the business of the business or help drive the business? Do you see IT as a cost center or a profit center? Do you worry about chargebacks or margins?
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– Dan Rasmus, Serious Insights