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The Successful CIO

By James Del Monte, JDA Professional Services, Inc.

I was privileged with the opportunity to attend the HMG Strategies CIO Executive Leadership Forum this March. It was a great program with valuable insight into the roles and successes of Houston’s CIOs. Over the course of the day’s activities I was approached by several attendees who each informed me of their interest in considering other positions. And what I found was that they all sought, over anything else, a strategic role. It struck me as rather interesting as each one described nearly identical issues despite representing a vast range of companies. Namely, that there is seemingly no consistent definition of strategic.

I observed several similarities from the presenting CIOs at the conference. Firstly, they were great at presenting and selling their ideas and successes. They communicated effectively with a non-technical language that managed to avoid getting lost in detail. They used ‘business speak’; mapping plainly stated value propositions to business objectives. The focus was on the impact of business to the customer and profitability vs. technology, with a clear distinction between each. They described successful projects that caught the attention of the right executives which in turn spawned additional projects. Management of these projects hinged on minimizing people issues and maximizing the end impact through change management and working closely with the business implementation. These figures had business expertise and the flexibility to mould the organization, with freedom to swap out existing staff as necessary to meet the challenges.

The more frustrated of the CIOs, on the other hand, seemed caught up in the tactical side of IT. They were focused, primarily, on daily operations and smaller issues that would creep up. Some of which were legacy issues they were brought in to fix. These were issues such as infrastructure, ERP implementations and utilization, business consolidation, existing staff and processes, and, in most cases, peer leadership that appears immovable and not aligned with a uniform vision. Constant focus on existing issues limits credibility and hinders one’s ability to impart true, strategic change.

The most successful executives I have worked with are the best at getting things done. They understand the value and impact of their work, and make sure the right people are aware of the accomplishments. They are strategic thinkers, but excel, more so, at strategic doing. This creates an effect of starting out with small, easily managed projects to build credibility in effort to secure larger and larger projects.  

For the past fifteen years, I have been a part of a CEO round table. We spent an entire year with two PhD business professors developing our own business plans with strategy, mission, vision, values, branding, and the project portfolio to support it all. The issues that I, and many of my peers, would run into were not in developing these strategies; rather, they were in the implementation.

The greatest successes are the result of careful execution, applying the visions with a strategic emphasis. This just happens to coincide with the true difficulty in building a business. Murky, unclear goals, ineffective measures of results, and daily operational issues consume resources and impede strategic growth initiatives. As such, a combination of tactical doing and strategic thinking with the ability to sell one’s ideas is the key to a strong and successful CIO.

Let me know if I can be of help.

James Del Monte, CERS, CPC

Proverbs 11:25

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