If you’re one of the 55% of companies unimpressed by your IT/business alignment, you may need to include someone in a Chief Information Officer (CIO) role to assist with strategic IT planning.

You likely rely on an outsourced IT provider or an in-house IT department to maintain your technology.

The problem?

Many of the IT teams out there do just that, MAINTAIN.

While they may tout some form of CIO services or experience, they fail to understand your business. A person in a CIO role can provide immense value, but this role can also be misconstrued and diluted by IT providers and CIOs alike. Account managers, sales professionals, and under-qualified technicians are often disguised as a Chief Information Officer by IT outsourcing companies looking to gain a competitive edge.

To define a true CIO, we are going to focus on the differentiator between a CIO “poser” and the real deal… the value of having someone in the CIO role at the leadership table. 

Why are we taking this approach? Because if you, the leader of the business, do not find it valuable to sit down and talk shop with a CIO, they likely aren’t a CIO. The CIO’s value hinges upon their ability to have thoughtful, proactive conversations. They will provide new insights and suggestions for how to leverage your IT in a way that aligns with your business objectives and goals today, and one to two years down the road.

By the time you’re done reading this article, you will understand:

  • What a CIO is and is NOT
  • What it means to have a TRUE CIO on your side
  • How a CIO can save you money, make you money, and reduce your risk
  • Why having a person in the CIO role is critical to your business strategy

“A CIO’s role is not to be the expert in everything but to bring the right expertise to the table at the right time. They should coordinate with all parties to establish an IT solution that accomplishes the business’s objectives now and in the future.” — Patrick Wiley, Aldridge CEO

1) Having Someone in the CIO Role Helps Align IT with Your Business

The CIO will work closely with the CEO, CFO, and other members of your leadership team to coordinate an IT roadmap that aligns with you leadership’s vision for the organization. A CIO is a C-level executive for a reason, they have a vision. Just like the CEO has a big-picture vision for the business, the Chief Information Officer can take that vision and translate it into an IT path that complements and assists the company’s efforts. This path is generally presented as a 12 to 24-month IT roadmap and budget for your business.

What should a CIO include in an IT roadmap?

  1. What the executive team is trying to achieve with their technology
  2. When the business objectives need to be achieved
  3. How much it will cost to achieve those objectives

A person in the CIO role should focus on the following elements:

  • Big-Picture Planning: A CIO adheres to a consistent vision when making big-picture IT decisions. Their decision process is centered around the business requirements, Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of the effort, and the Return on Investment (ROI) of the IT solution.
  • Time Management: A CIO values their own time. They will avoid implementing an IT solution that will inevitably break in the future and require that they spend time fixing the issue…again. A CIO will predict and prepare for IT roadblocks before they’re encountered.
  • Proactive Communication: The role of the CIO is to clearly communicate IT trends, risks, knowledge, and opportunities to the business executives. A CIO should hold regular business reviews with your leadership team to plan for the company’s future IT needs. If they can’t confidently address the issue, they can bring the necessary experts into the discussion.
  • Playing Devil’s Advocate: Just because something works doesn’t mean it’s the best solution overall. A CIO will always question the intention of the IT decision. If an employee requests a specific software for their department because they are already familiar with the technology, is that the most stable ground for long-term success? Likely not. Like people, systems must talk to one another to work together properly, so how will the software and applications you choose today integrate with your business one year from now? These questions drive the leadership’s discussion of IT from a business perspective.

2) The Person in the CIO Role is Not an Order Taker or a Rogue Explorer

A CIO is an IT Strategist

A Chief Information Officer (CIO) is a C-level executive whose responsibilities extend beyond the day to day management of your IT systems and issues. The CIO uses proactive IT planning to manage, implement, and make use of your technology in the most efficient and cohesive manner possible. They create a 12 to 24-month IT roadmap that is aligned to support your business’s objectives and goals. This guide will clearly communicate what IT efforts and costs you can expect going forward.

A CIO is Tech and Business Savvy

CIOs generally have a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as computer science, computer information systems, IT management, or database administration. This is sometimes paired with a master’s degree in business administration, or extensive experience in an executive-level IT role that enables the CIO to manage the business elements of strategy, development, hiring, and budgeting.  A person in a CIO role must have an in-depth understanding of technology solutions and trends, as well as a big-picture understanding of what it takes to run a business.

A CIO is Not an IT Manager

An IT Manager’s primary role is to maintain the active health of the organization’s current IT environment. Current is the keyword as the IT Manager does not focus energy on maintaining the future health of your IT. That’s why IT Managers tend to implement one-month technology solutions. We see this often with new clients whose previous IT, in-house or outsourced, did not focus their efforts on aligning the technology with the business’s requirements for the long-term. Unlike the CIO, the IT Manager is not considering how the solution will work and integrate with other critical systems the business may need in the future. If they solved the issue for the time being, they did their job.

A CIO is Not an IT Director

An IT Director has more skin in the strategy game than the IT Manager and is likely participating in at least a few business planning conversations. They aren’t expected to contribute to the trends and inform the business of new IT opportunities, but they are responsible for being aware of the trends and planning as needed. The IT Manager reports to the IT Director and the IT Director reports to the CIO. However, the IT Director normally receives a down-the-line summary of the conversation and its resulting initiatives from the CFO or another leadership member.

A CIO is Not Your On-site Tech Guy

Some IT providers have been known to extend the CIO title to their on-site field technicians.  If the “CIO” mainly talks with the Office Manager, Administrator, or another non-executive, they aren’t a CIO. Without the leadership team’s insight into the future of the business, the IT decisions lack a cohesive direction. They fail to follow the vision of the CEO, and often result in larger, more expensive IT and business issues down the line.

3) A CIO Knows What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know

In the Wild West of cloud apps and shadow IT, it’s nearly impossible to have a full picture of your IT risks and opportunities. For example, you may not even know your employees are storing company information on rogue applications, or worse, that these employees will still have access to this information when they leave your company. If your IT team is only coming to you when there is an issue, they aren’t preparing your business and your bottom line for the unknown.

The CIO’s Role in Security Strategy Planning

Proactive communication is especially important when it comes to staying on top of IT trends and security concerns. The person in the CIO role is responsible for initiating a discussion around your security risks and the available solutions BEFORE your business experiences an issue such as a breach or data loss incident.

A CIO who comes to you as an experienced IT professional and works with leaders of your organization can point out trends such as the recent increase in phishing attacks, and explain how these threats are costing businesses thousands of dollars to remediate. Their engagement is not a response to a problem, but an effort to prevent it.

The CIO’s Role in Network and Systems Design

A forward-looking CIO is also necessary to constructing an appropriate IT network and environment your business can depend upon and your budget can support. So many times, we have seen IT departments assemble a hodge-podge of IT solutions that meet a need today but create a problem tomorrow.

This lack of strategy can paint your business into a corner. We have seen this happen to a number of businesses, and some are left with no other option but to rip out their entire IT infrastructure and start from scratch. By this point, they already spent more money on accrued downtime, technology purchases, and IT projects than they would have if a CIO had been a part of the conversation in the first place. A TRUE CIO will not only recommend the technology to resolve your issue, but they will outline the ROI of the decision and how it benefits your business long-term.

4) A CIO’s Value Hinges on IT’s Ability to Support Your Business Goals

Whether your CIO is in-house or you’re paying for outsourced CIO services, you’re likely concerned about the ROI around the person in the CIO role’s efforts. How do you know if your CIO is making the right decisions? They know more about technology than you do and at the end of the day, you’re at their mercy.

How to Determine if Your CIO is Worth Bragging About

A CIO’s ROI is going to be driven by cost optimization and the alignment of technology with your business. Key Performance Indicators (KPI) around the CIO role are a function of:

  1. Efficiency of the business: A CIO will enable everyone in your organization to do the work they need to do with the tools they need to do it so your organization can operate as a cohesive whole.
  2. IT cost optimization: The CIO will make an informed choice about where to spend IT funds to accomplish business objectives as efficiently as possible.
  3. Appropriateness of the IT toolset: The person in the CIO role will lead the management of your IT toolset and suite of IT services to maximize ROI while balancing your risk and economic choices.

What Your CIO Should be Bringing to the Table

Your CIO should be continuously thinking about the current and future IT elements your organization needs to consider and prepare for. They will have a clear picture of:

  • What areas of IT your business aims to optimize
  • Your organization’s pain points both across the business and within IT
  • How to best address these concerns with your one to two-year IT budget

If your business plans to grow over the next three years, you may not know what you need to plan for so your technology can support your business growth without interruption or IT emergencies.

The person in the CIO role will ask questions like:

  • How do you want the business to operate in the next one to three years?
  • What technology can you put in place to improve efficiency and avoid hiring additional staff?
  • What applications does each department need to do their jobs? How will these applications integrate and talk to one another?
  • Are your business processes scalable?

For example, if you’re a start-up, Google apps may allow you to do your job today. However, the Google suite was designed as a consumer-based product, meaning it has limits. A CIO will recognize this limitation and suggest a more comprehensive and scalable solution. They may recommend a solution like Office 365 that was built as an enterprise-level service and modified to fit a small business model.

Essentially, the CIO will be proactive about asking the question: when your business needs to go to the next level, what support, expertise, and tasks are necessary to do so?

“Aldridge worked with us to better understand our tech, empower us to use it better, and deal with everything that we couldn’t. They have great communication and many times even notice our problems before we do.” –Eric T., Oil & Gas

5) Engaging a CIO in Strategic Planning Can Benefit (Almost) Any Business

As we have outlined throughout this article, having a capable CIO to align your business and IT strategies is key to optimizing technology tools and costs. If your business is growing or plans to grow, you need someone with a wide-breadth of business and IT expertise, as well as a forward-thinking approach to facilitate the right conversations at the right time.

The Higher the Rank, the Higher the Turnover

While most SMBs need a CIO, a majority can’t afford to retain someone of this caliber in-house. A professional in the CIO role will require a team of IT professionals to help execute their IT vision. Someone in this position is likely to leave your organization if they find themselves repairing servers or answering employee support requests. The risk of high turnover in this role is why SMBs often seek CIO services via an IT outsourcing provider. However, even then, they may not receive the level of service they expected.

Who DOESN’T need a CIO?

Let’s say you’re a part of a small consulting group or law firm. You may not need a CIO as a part of your leadership team if:

  • You do not plan to grow
  • Your members primarily work as independent entities and are responsible for their own technology
  • Your collaboration needs are minimal
  • Your employees do not need to operate on a shared, cohesive infrastructure.

A CIO can provide the most value to an organization that embraces change and relies on technology to drive success.

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of how a CIO at the leadership table could benefit your business, and how you can tell if a CIO is worth your time and money.

About Aldridge CIO Services

Strategy is a vital part of the Aldridge Framework  for Successful IT and the core responsibility of someone in a Chief Information Officer role. At Aldridge, we provide top-notch CIO services that help our clients make the most of their technology. Our end goal is to empower your business to meet its goals by providing strategic planning and proactive communication. We want you to know what to expect and when.

Contact an Aldridge representative today to learn more about how a strategic, long-term IT plan can help move your business forward.