It’s clear that digital transformation is more than a trend or buzzword these days; it’s now considered essential to business success. Every business wants to flex their innovation muscle, and with data breaches scorching headlines lately, it’s no surprise that CIOs are the new hot commodity. In fact, the executive search firm Caldwell Partners declared recently that there’s a “full-on war for cyber talent” which is why big tech firms on the West Coast are offering as much as $6.5 million per year for top CIO talent.
As a Solutions Consultant at TrackVia, I talk with CIO’s and IT professionals regularly about achieving their business goals. It’s evident most CIOs are under immense pressure to move full-throttle into modernization while ensuring top-notch security, but they must do so without forgetting the day-to-day needs of the business. Finding that balance cannot be easy, but some CIOs have found the right equation. The most successful CIOs I’ve worked with exhibit equal parts business-savvy and tech-savvy mixed with uncanny strategy skills. It’s easy to assume these superhero CIOs are just genetic marvels, but their success is more achievable than you may think. I’ve asked some well-respected CIOs for their secret formula for advancement, and these four tips are what they shared.
1. If you haven’t already, it’s time to embrace the cloud
I don’t just make this statement because I sell cloud hosted software; I say it because it’s a necessity in the future of business. In fact, the federal government recently made cloud-adoption a central tenet of its IT modernization strategy. Cloud technology is faster, easier to maintain and gaining in popularity. In 2018, Forbes reported that by 2020 (as in, 4 months from now) an estimated 83% of enterprise workloads will be in the cloud.
There are obvious data concerns with cloud technology, but there are risks with non-cloud technology as well. The most successful CIOs handle the data dilemma this way: vetting the hell out of every vendor they’re evaluating. As tough as it is to respond to 20+ pages of IT security questionnaires in the middle of a sales cycle, security is vital to the business’ success, so make sure your vendors are fully transparent and willing to adhere to your vendor risk management processes.
The takeaway: The cloud is here to stay, so balance the needs of your business and understand the clear benefits cloud technology brings.
2. Don’t be afraid to bypass a big name vendor
Big businesses often choose to work with big vendors, but bigger isn’t always better. Some CIOs expressed disappointment in dealing with corporate goliaths, particularly around pricing, functionality, and support. Their advice: evaluate all the pros and cons and make sure you prioritize personalized service. Your organization needs a flexible and accommodating vendor with fewer layers of bureaucracy to deal with, especially when software changes need to be made. In addition to support, consider the ability to innovate quickly. Vendors with a larger client base tend to make fewer innovative changes to the product for fear of upsetting existing clients. Sure, larger vendors offer broader horizontal functionality, but that typically comes with a higher price tag and businesses may be paying for features they don’t need.
The takeaway: select the best options for your needs, regardless of the size of the company. Understand the tradeoffs between large and smaller vendors, but keep the ability to innovate at the top of your criteria.
3. Give your data a home that’s not a spreadsheet
Every company I’ve worked with, regardless of the industry or company size, always share some variation of the following experience: “Well, system X is too hard to work with, and we don’t even have a system for process Y, so we just use Excel.” Business leaders know spreadsheets pose huge security risks (not to mention being incredibly error-prone), but they’re stuck relying on them to manage their business. TrackVia recently conducted a survey of over 200 operations executives and found that 90% must augment core systems by downloading data to spreadsheets in order to manipulate, analyze, and share the data. That’s a lot of spreadsheets flying around the office.
Of course, spreadsheets may be useful for certain office tasks, but you shouldn’t treat it as a critical component of your business. Believe it or not, studies report that 90% of spreadsheets contain errors, and those mistakes can seriously impact your business. The CIOs I’ve worked with, look back on their life of spreadsheets and laugh. They’ve discovered a low-code alternative to spreadsheets, legacy databases, and complicated enterprise systems. Using a low-code system, you can track, manage, and automate critical business processes or operational workflows with greater efficiency and speed. With low-code, data collection is accurate and analyzed in real-time, and teams can take immediate action through automated tasks, alerts, or even emails.
The takeaway: spreadsheets are destroying your business. Find a new solution that makes data collection faster, easier, and more accurate that also integrates with your existing systems.
4. Empower your business users, but know when to step in
Back to the topic of digital transformation. Businesses are making it a top priority, and they’ll do whatever they have to in order to get there, even if it means going around their already stretched IT team. The CIOs I’ve worked with know their departments are overburdened and lack the resources needed to meet the quickly growing demands of modernization. So, they’ve found a way to give business users, not IT professionals, the ability to build the technology they need without relying on IT. Even without programming experience, business users can digitize virtually any operational process and start using it in weeks.
Their advice is to let departments explore low-code platforms, but do so with IT supervision. Sure, low-code automates routine tasks, gets rid of repetitive tasks, and takes the pressure off of IT, but make sure IT can harness rogue users by hosting apps on managed platforms and adding guardrails.
The takeaway: With more technology being released that puts power into the hands of the business user, CIOs need to make sure they have a seat at the decision-making table. Development and IT teams are often not brought into the conversation soon enough, so CIOs must get out ahead of these requests.
Data shows the CIO role is evolving, but you don’t need superhuman skills to keep up with the demand. The successful CIOs I’ve worked with know how to execute small changes that result in big wins.
Moving forward, CIOs need to work closely with COOs to address the ongoing tug-of-war between IT and operations. A recent survey of over 200 operations executives shows that businesses are losing confidence in IT. Find out what operations leaders had to say about working with IT on digitization initiatives.