The CIO’s new role: Orchestrator-in-chief

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The more the CIO can function as a centralized source for technology resources, the better, says Ping Identity’s Cannava, who sees this transpiring in three phases, depending on the maturity of the organization. In Phase 1, the CIO is the clearinghouse for current technology projects, taking on the traditional role as in-house consultant.

In Phase 2, the CIO becomes the clearinghouse for data within the organization. “In many cases, we are the keepers of the keys to datasets,” he says. “We have the ability to bring datasets together, and those insights could drive what the agenda is for the business. They could show us where we have the opportunity to improve our go-to-market. So having that access to the insights driving business intelligence initiatives has allowed us to expand our seat at the table.”

In Phase 3, the CIO also becomes the clearinghouse for emerging technologies. Because, he says, to truly unlock the potential of all that data, you need artificial intelligence. And that raises some immediate questions for CIOs who want to be orchestrators. “Is IT the driver of the selection, implementation, and delivery of those things? Or is IT setting standards allowing the business to move at its own pace of adopting AI? Are we selecting add-ons to our existing platforms, or buying purpose-built tools, or generic platforms? Those are all really hard decisions we’re being asked to make right now,” Cannava says.

Hoemeke put this approach to good use when, after a merger, she set out to consolidate all of One’s systems on Microsoft Azure — an 18-month project. “I had to get my whole organization on board with this huge shift,” she says.

She knew the company’s customers — insurers who use One for payment processing — would be affected because the changeover required a 24-hour planned pause in that processing. “When you start messing around with people’s products that are integrated with their core systems, they start to get nervous,” she says. Although the company sent customers multiple notifications to alert them to the migration and the coming outage, not all customers understood how directly they’d be affected.

Hoemeke wanted to be as transparent as possible — without burying people in hard-to-understand technical details. And so she asked for help from her business colleagues. “I partnered with our customer success team,” she says. “We had identified about 10 or 12 clients that were particularly anxious, and we started an every-two-hour communication that went on for 21 hours straight.” Marketing worked with IT to design this communication plan, and the delivery teams sent the message to their clients.

The end result was a successful project that was completed with very few hiccups and no irate customers. “It’s all about the planning, and involving your stakeholders,” she says now. “Even if you don’t think someone is a stakeholder, include them anyway.” Beyond that, she says, “Invest in the relationships. Technology people have a tendency to be a little bit arrogant — you know: ‘This is technical work, I don’t need anybody and I don’t need any help.’ But at the end of the day, we did need a lot of help.”

This may sound extreme, but it could be helpful, especially for CIOs who are looking to expand from a more traditional IT role. To the question of how CIOs could become orchestrators of their companies’ technology strategy, Marc Tanowitz, managing partner, advisory and transformation, at West Monroe Partners, says that at large enterprises, that role is more typically filled by a transformation office, headed by a chief transformation officer or chief digital officer, often hired from outside.

What about the CIO? “At a minimum, they’re creating the business and technical architecture that has to be complied with, so that when our clients go through these digital transformations, they get the promised benefit of this world of connected data that they can use and analyze,” Tanowitz says, adding that while CIOs might be well-suited to orchestrate back-office and middle-office functions, when it comes to front-office functions, they need a lot of help and input from marketing. “I don’t think the CIO’s perspective is typically informed by the dynamics of the market,” he says.

“I think the world of digital has opened up a much wider aperture around what’s possible and where technology makes an impact,” says Rick Johnson, chief digital officer at window and door manufacturer Marvin. Before joining Marvin about a year ago, Johnson was CIO of packaging company Sonoco. The CDO title does make a difference, he says, explaining that the word “digital” has become paired with “transformation.”

“The chief digital officer role provides greater purview to impact and lead the transformation effort, not just as a partner on the side helping to make that successful, but actually shaping the direction it takes,” he says.

At what stage of an initiative is the CIO or IT invited to join the discussion? “If they’re bringing IT in at the end and they’ve already selected a product, then IT is a very tactical resource in their minds,” Cannava says. “If they’re bringing me in when they’re thinking about an opportunity to improve a process or drive revenue, then I’m winning. That means they trust my business acumen and they understand we’re an enabler across the business.”

For this to happen, CIOs must be ready to step out of the shadows. “The real key for CIOs to be successful at those relationships is don’t just show up and say, ‘Here’s the list of things everybody’s doing.’ Show up and say, ‘Here’s what’s happening, and here’s what I think we should do right now,'” Gartner’s Tyler says.

For example, if the marketing department is trying to improve customer retention, and the operations team is trying to reduce cycle time, those two efforts are related, Tyler says. They might benefit from a combined initiative, and the CIO can add value by pointing out that opportunity. “But the CIO has to be proactive,” he says.

“You have to take chances, right?” he adds. “These are high-stakes kinds of things. You’re a senior executive now, reporting to the CEO. You can’t be timid and wait for the ask — you have to step forward and demonstrate that you have some thoughts to share, and some ideas to put on the table.”

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