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CIO Means Chief of More Than Information

By Julie Cullivan, SVP, Business Operations and And CIO, FireEye, Inc.

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Julie Cullivan, SVP, Business Operations and CIO, FireEye, Inc.

I’ve heard the same thing, since I started my career to be an effective CIO you have to understand the business and align closely with the business imperatives.

This is still true today, but many things have changed drastically. We’re not just Chief Information Officers, we are Chief Officers of risk, security, compliance, customer assurance, integration, problem solving and the list goes on. While the title hasn’t changed, the responsibilities and the expectations of the role are definitely different.

Team CIO

A CIO has a unique perspective. We have visibility in to how the entire operation runs- what is working and what is not. Which means a strong CIO, in many cases, needs to know the business better than any of the individual functions or departments –we need to see the individual pieces and the big picture. That’s true for both the aspects of the business and the teams that comprise it.

"The CIO has to work towards solving end-to-end business issues with the right technology with an emphasis on the customer, partner, and employee experience"

And yet, those individual pieces have to work together as a unit. Cross-functional teams, whether they’re in finance or marketing or manufacturing or sales, have to also be dedicated to the initiatives that help the business the most. The order cannot just be placed with IT; all necessary functions have to agree that they will dedicate the right resources to the initiative. When all the functions have a common goal and become a team, it allows for iterative development models and a velocity that’s imperative in today’s business world. The key is for the team to identify what’s most important over and over again during project stages or sprints to help focus on delivering solutions that will be beneficial in the short-term and the long-term.

Another huge part of the big picture is technology. The CIO has to work towards solving end-to-end business issues with the right technology with an emphasis on the customer, partner, and employee experience. Above all, we have to be passionate about supporting efficiency and productivity and security all within the context of how these audiences want to, and need to, work with the organization.

Strategic Thinking

Today’s CIO has to wear one hat that fits two mindsets- strategic and tactical.Many CIOs are asked to think more strategically but you really have to be about both sometimes simultaneously. It’s great to set a cloud strategy, but as a CIO, you also have to be responsible for thinking through the logistics of security, data privacy, customer assurance and integration. It circles back to my earlier point of seeing both the big picture and the individual pieces you have to understand the key issues and the function of each team to effectively and efficiently manage those logistics. In other words, a CIO is on the hook for innovating but also trouble shooting and understanding risk at the same time –all while keeping the lights on and supporting customers, partners and employees. It’s a tall order and a huge responsibility on the shoulders of today’s CIO.

Chief Reality Checker

As if the responsibilities I’ve already addressed weren’t enough, a CIO needs to be an effective and courageous communicator. Today’s CIO has to be the voice of reason when the organization has potentially unrealistic expectations and must be ready to communicate options and recommendations that will still align with the ultimate goal of the organization. Say your company is working on a cloud strategy and wants it implemented in three months. That simply may not be possible, and the CIO has to have the courage to speak up and say so but be prepared to walk through alternatives that still meet the larger goal of moving to the cloud. Otherwise, you may put the reputational risk of the company or the Executive team on the line. To be clear, this is not about wielding power and saying no just because you can or about not fully supporting the strategic imperatives of the organization. It’s about being a realist and making sure the company doesn’t suffer as a result of overpromising and under-delivering.

When it comes to broadcasting the success of their teams, it is all too easy to focus on what hasn’t been done and is still looming. Cross-functional teams need recognition, or the focus will always be on what’s next instead of what was done right. While we’ve got to look ahead, we also need to celebrate accomplishments and successes.

Even how we measure those successes has changed. Touting ‘on time and on budget’ no longer means we’re successful. Nor can we point to the number of servers or data centers, uptime, or time to respond. Those don’t matter nearly as much today as velocity, new services being delivered, automation, or security assurance. It’s just another adjustment required of a CIO today.

Behind the Times

With all of the things that have changed one thing hasn’t caught up- the perception of IT. Somehow it is still seen as a separate entity that has little to do with the business except for keeping the systems operational. IT is so much more than networks, servers and phones. The traditional IT models and roles need to be updated to meet today’s business models, with emphasis on integrating IT with other functional teams.

When companies finally understand that IT is the business just like any other function and that the rest of company can’t operate without it – we will have caught up with the times. It still won’t mean the CIO acronym encompasses all that the CIO really does but it’s a start.