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The Aligned CIO

In the transformation of IT, we throw around what is now getting to be trite IT jargon … “The CIO must be aligned to the business.”  But what does this really mean?  In English?

 In English, alignment means that IT resources are optimized to meet the mission’s demand for new and existing technology. But in a Forrester IT Excellence survey of 162 senior IT executives, only 15% declared themselves to be fully aligned. So, if alignment is so important, why are only 15% of folks in this survey there?  It’s no wonder CIO stands for “Career is Over.” 

 I’m beginning to think that “alignment” is essentially not so much a place to actually “be,” but a place to “try” to be.  With apologies to my favorite Muppet, Yoda, who implores young Skywalker: “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”

I believe the effectiveness of an aligned CIO is in the “try.”  So, assuming that alignment is this mythological place that is approached asymptotically, how does the aligned CIO “try?” Year ago, when I was Deputy CIO at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the first thing I wanted to do was shoot a gun.  Never shot a gun before, though I wondered if it was a skill that might come in handy for a CIO.  After I got that thrill out of the way, I decided that I would stick with organoleptic testing of fermented beverages and “try” a different way.

There are three components to the “try:” effective governance, relationships with the mission folks, and requisite leadership competencies.

 Effective governance: How do you make decisions about technology? How do you allocate scarce resources? What are the priorities? What information do you need to make good decisions? Who has decision rights? These are multilateral decisions about IT that ensure IT meets mission needs.

 Relationships with mission executives:  Many times, being a CIO change agent is a tough gig, and no CIO should expect to win popularity contests.  An effective relationship requires understanding their pain; understanding their priorities; understanding what IT needs to do for them, and understanding the possibilities of what IT can do.

 Leadership: Yoda may have had good CIO advice when he encouraged Young Skywalker to use The Force. For the CIO, this Force is leadership. This includes strong people skills, to manage an IT workforce; communication skills – to listen and speak; courage to do the right thing; and I suppose, a light saber for technology leadership.

Thus, as a CIO, one must realize that to be aligned, one must agree with the company’s mission, support their goals, and understand their organization’s direction.


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