May 15 2009

CIO Success Hinges on a Stronger Collaborative Role

Transformation can’t be just about the technology; it has to be about the technology chiefs, too.

The role of the CIO is definitely changing. In many organizations, this transformation is a response to turbulent, hyper-connected business environments that compel organizations to adopt innovative technologies to gain advantage. In government, the push for performance is driving similar transitions.

CIOs now have some responsibility for their agencies’ business success and therefore must improve partnering within their organizations to facilitate outcomes such as enhanced e-customer service.

New technologies such as unified communications present some of the most exciting opportunities for expanding collaboration inside agencies and hold tremendous potential for supporting mission strategies that rely on increased self-service, enhanced employee productivity and streamlined processes.

What’s Changing

Agencies are accumulating massive amounts of information, supported by speedier processing and new technology tools. Furthermore, most of us are projecting exponential growth in the amount of data our organizations will collect, store, access and exchange over the next decade.

It’s obvious that information management has become a core business function within all large organizations. So why segregate IT decisions from mainstream administrative decisions? Why confine the CIO to technology acquisition and implementation? In the near future, agencies will be successful only if they view IT (and the CIO) as a full partner in planning and executing mission strategies.

Program and technology leaders in large public and private organizations often complain that CIOs operate only in the IT sphere and therefore are not in a position to help drive solutions. This can be changed, but change is usually resisted. Web 2.0 tools add technical collaboration capability, but organizations may resist adopting such tools because they fear the loss of privacy and control. Combined with a natural wariness to change, this fear generally drives organizational structure vertically by functionality, instead of horizontally through new approaches to collaboration. Today, most federal CIOs are not leaders but instead technical managers of their information environments.

The Problem

The current vertical model supports a hierarchical approach. It can promote strong management of IT projects and implementation that is on budget and on schedule. But the execution can be linear and one-dimensional because this model generally carves out IT projects as separate from business change initiatives. Performance evaluation tends to focus on tactical measures — outputs rather than outcomes. In this model, the CIO manages IT investments as technology projects.

An Answer

In a collaborative governance model, CIOs would be more effective in driving business change throughout the organization. Once the agency head determines the vision and strategy, the CIO’s role is to translate the use of IT collaboratively and horizontally across the organization.

In this scenario, the CIO becomes a business leader who understands technology. No longer just a functional leader focused on technology deployments, the CIO is able to translate the vision into a strategy without organizational bias, working across the enterprise to foster collaboration throughout the execution and evaluation process.

Technology can foster this collaboration through the use of Web 2.0 tools such as wikis, blogs and Twitter, as well as new communications platforms (unified communications being the most promising).

Organizing communication technology in this way allows people to get information in the form of voice, video or data, both instantly and simultaneously.

Photo: James Kegley