How to Become a Transformational CIO: Be Brilliant at the Basics

When people talk about becoming a transformational CIO, they aren’t always expecting to hear that it starts with being brilliant at the basics. While many CIOs can have all of the passion, eloquence, and skills to be a transformational CIO, the first and most important step is to show how well they’re delivering on the core elements of the job. Being brilliant at the basics gives you the credibility to push the envelope.

Ultimately, being brilliant at the basics means IT must be wed to outcomes, not tools. And each of these outcomes should deliver experiences for employees, partners, and customers that are enhanced by your technology infrastructure, not hindered by it. But to get there requires CIOs to effectively communicate those successes, measure their value, and staff your team with outcome-oriented professionals.

Changing the Conversation

One of the hallmarks of CIOs who are brilliant at the basics is that they can clearly describe their role and the value they deliver, so that someone who does not understand technology at all can understand the role of IT. Communicating business value is a hard thing for many IT people. It’s natural for many of us to be activity-based versus outcome-based, and prefer to say, “I delivered X system at the request of our business partners to assist them as they set up new regions.”

I advise flipping the equation: Start with outcomes, and then explain technology’s role. For example, “In order for us to reduce by half the amount of time it takes to set up new regions, we made these technology decisions.” That approach is much more powerful and understandable by all, and also demonstrates that the CIO is thinking outside the IT box.

Too often, the flashy, high-profile projects get the attention, but they may not support the business in a way that less glamorous “basics” do.

If you start with the outcome you’re trying to achieve, then results become easier to measure. Measurement is another one of those basics that are part of the foundation of transformational IT. Seasoned CIOs know that to effectively capture data-based metrics around the quality of what it is they’re doing and the magnitude of the benefit they’re creating for the business, a process framework (business capability-driven ITSM, DevOps, etc.) is a necessity. By measuring outcomes, you are able to bring facts and hard data into your dialog with business partners.

As an IT leader, it’s your responsibility to recognize and reward your people who are striving to be brilliant at the basics. Too often, the flashy, high-profile projects get the attention, but they may not support the business in a way that less glamorous “basics” like reliable email and videoconferencing do.

Much like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—where food and shelter form the base of the pyramid, and self-actualization forms the tip—only by laying a solid foundation can your IT organization reach the heights of innovation.

(Interested in more on this topic? Read, “The Innovative CIO: The Catalyst to Driving Digital Transformation.”)