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How to become an agile CIO

Traditionally, CIOs manage practically everything related to information and communication technology. But in an agile organization, the CIO role is redefined.
agile CIO
Santiago Comella-Dorda

Works with clients to define, develop, and implement digital solutions to succeed in an ever-accelerating world. Helps large organizations to become more agile, empower teams, create nimble structures and accelerate innovation.

As more companies go fully digital and agile, they start to look more like technology companies. No matter the product or service they offer, companies must embrace that technology is shaping our world and today’s business cannot run without IT.

CIOs can serve as catalysts by setting direction and establishing the system and infrastructure for people to do their jobs effectively in an agile organization. Their opportunity lies in becoming a product visionary, being much less of an IT manager and, instead, defining and driving strategic technology initiatives. The agile CIO is thinking constantly of creative ideas to grow and nurture talent in the organization, encouraging expertise development and further learning. And they love IT for IT’s sake.

Take one CIO, who on his time off learned new programming languages to educate the team. Another CIO organized a hackathon with programmers to recruit fresh talent. Yet another insisted all the members of the team read the classic IT book “Continuous Delivery” by Jez Humble as part of a team-building exercise.

Traditionally, CIOs manage practically everything related to information and communication technology, including policy and practice development, planning, budgeting, resourcing, and training. But in an agile organization, given the pressure to speed up innovation and land superior talent, the CIO position is redefined— a successful CIO fills three key roles:

  1. Architect/technology visionary
    • The CIO is in charge of IT strategy and the IT systems required to support the organization's unique objectives and goals. Analyzing how these technologies benefit the company or improve an existing business process, and then integrating a system to realize that benefit or improvement is key to this role. Responsibilities include:
      • Building the overall IT strategy.
      • Delivering a strong technology/product vision and influencing the direction in meaningful ways.
      • Embracing enterprise-wide IT decisions about systems and technology.
      • Driving strategic partnerships with business ecosystem partners, technology partners and vendors.
  2. Driver of knowledge and talent
    • The CIO is not only an expert in their own right, but also serves as a visionary and leader building and inspiring their team while offering opportunities to grow. Responsibilities include:
      • Managing the workforce (hiring, firing, capability building, evaluations).
      • Setting IT talent performance standards.
      • Ensuring consistency of practices (including architecture, technology choices, DevOps practices, etc.).
  3. Problem solver
    • The agile CIO aligns the team around a vision and creates an environment that empowers colleagues to make decisions and move quickly on delivering results. Responsibilities include:
      • Removing impediments to reach goals and leading key strategic initiatives.
      • Working to guide, direct and give feedback to the team in real time.
      • Ensuring the collection of squads (teams with representatives from different functions working at a single location, with interconnected missions) are working cohesively together; playing the “tribe-lead” role for some IT-enabling squads (core platforms, shared services, etc.).

In their redefined position, agile CIOs actively offer perspectives and skills beyond just technology. They grasp how to be collaborative with immediate team members, the broader organization and customers. They don’t forego their traditional role; if a critical piece of enterprise technology crashes, they must handle it. But, above all, they must possess a nimble mindset. For, in this new organizational world, the CIO could be next in line to become the CEO. 

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