Imagine for a moment a CIO that has no technological training or background. Such an individual would go about managing his or her department quite differently than the majority of CIOs, who come up through the ranks of IT. This person would likely rely much more heavily on those around them to achieve their goals and would likely focus on the big picture. They would also be more inclined to empower every individual within the organization to take personal responsibility for their use of technology and information. Lastly, if this person had a business background, they would likely understand that their success would be predicated on their ability to articulate their vision for digital technology throughout the organization so that others could follow.
It’s hard to know whether such a CIO would be successful. But within this hypothetical scenario, there are important lessons to be learned. It’s easy to forget as we try to implement new technology, software, systems, and processes that our success as CIOs will ultimately be determined by how effectively the people within our organization can use the technology we provide and execute the processes we put in place. The problem is, with rapid advancements in technology many people find it hard to keep up. The pace at which technology is constantly changing is outpacing the speed at which employees can absorb the knowledge and use it to their benefit. The farther people fall behind, the wider the proficiency and productivity gap becomes.
"User experience design has become a critical component of technology development in the last decade"
As a result, it is extremely important for CIOs and technology leaders to shift from a focus on the technology they are implementing to a focus on the people using it. They must take a human-centric approach to IT. In order to build this type of infrastructure within their companies, CIOs must rethink how their own departments operate and where they fit within the larger corporate strategy. There are three actionable items that CIOs can follow:
According to a survey performed by Gartner, CIOs should seek stronger relationships with other business departments for three main reasons: to gain a clearer understanding of business strategies and priorities, to identify initiatives and projects to focus on and to build more collaborative relationships with business executives. When thinking about how to take a human-centric approach to their work, CIOs would be wise to begin their collaboration efforts with the one department that is most adept and experienced at the management of people— Human Resources.
A strong relationship with HR will allow CIOs to more effectively disseminate key messages to employees and get them more engaged with taking responsibility over their own technology use. Initiatives should be implemented such as customized training sessions and mandatory courses tailored to different levels of knowledge.
When collaborative relationships across other business functions are formed, CIOs and technology professionals can fully understand the needs of each unit and work together with department heads to institutionalize technology best practices. There should be constant two-way communications between departments and IT to ensure that the technology put in place is efficient and effective.
2. Elevate and Integrate
Regardless of how engaged employees are with the use of technology within their organization, there will always be a need for IT experts. But in order to effectively bridge the gap between employees and the IT department, CIOs must focus on identifying and strategically placing both business savvy technologists and tech savvy operation experts within the company. These hybrid employees should be positioned as leaders.
The latest State of the CIO by CIO Magazine states that 36 percent of CIOs say they believe that people in other departments see IT as an obstacle to the corporate mission, while 31 percent of business executives agreed with that sentiment. This perception of IT must be changed from “roadblock” to “team member.” When these hybrid employees are introduced into other business units and start to disseminate valuable information, their peers will not only gain new knowledge, but also begin to view technology as an ally rather than an obstacle.
Employee engagement is not a problem that is unique to IT. According to a study from Deloitte, 87 percent of organizations cite culture and engagement as one of their top challenges across the entire enterprise. But with technology a central part of every organization and the pace of which it is changing constantly, keeping employees engaged is even more important. Knowing that it is impossible for employees to keep up, CIOs must take a leading role in educating their people.
CIOs need to put systems in place to ensure that everyone in the organization, from front line associates to the CEO, understand the benefits of learning new technologies and have a basic knowledge of how those systems work. It can’t be assumed that employees have technology experience already, even as the workforce skews younger. IT leaders need to recognize that their employee’s skills must be continuously developed as technology evolves, and realize that the education never stops. CIOs should push for technology proficiency and understanding to be a metric evaluated alongside other basic job skills for every position within an organization.
As the success of other departments is becoming increasingly reliant on technology, CIOs must reevaluate how their department is run, now more than ever. According to CIO magazine, 31 percent of CEOs say a top priority for IT is to simplify it. Doing so will not be easy, but it starts with understanding that effective enterprise technology must start with the people using it. User experience design has become a critical component of technology development in the last decade. CIOs would be wise to learn the lessons of this evolution in their own organizations in order to maximize organizational efficiency and technological opportunity.