How CIOs Can Ensure a Seat at the Strategy Table

For CIOs to be effective, they must reframe their role in enterprise strategy development.

Ella, a newer CIO at a large retail company, knows digital will change the entire business model of the enterprise. Blockchain could revolutionize the company’s supply chain, and artificial intelligence could augment how customers interact with the brick-and-mortar stores and how they order items through the website. But Ella also knows to push these plans forward in a strategic company-wide effort, she must be seen by the rest of the C-suite as a business leader, not just the head of IT.

Monika Sinha, Vice President Analyst, Gartner, says information and technology are considered too late in the strategy process in many enterprises.

Once your ambition is clear, appropriately position IT at the heart of your business strategy

“IT is fundamental to the new business challenges,” Sinha says. “It underpins new business models, products and services that are disrupting existing industries and creating new markets. As strategists, CIOs are flexible, agile and opportunistic in their approach.”

The traditional “wait and respond” approach to enterprise strategy — the business strategy is finalized, the CIO reviews the strategy for IT’s contribution and an IT strategy is developed in response — is no longer viable.

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Sinha says CIOs need to develop a leadership profile as a strategist: a concrete plan for how they will act, think, brand themselves and respond in the enterprise. She outlined three steps CIOs can take to have greater input into the business strategy.

Step 1. Position IT in your enterprise strategy

Digital success requires leaders to identify and align with the enterprise’s digital ambition. Is the objective to use digital technology to optimize your current business model to improve productivity, products and customer service; or do you use it to pursue new business models, products or services?

Once your ambition is clear, appropriately position IT at the heart of your business strategy. It will negate the need for a separate digital business strategy and allow the enterprise to begin thinking and acting like a digital business.

Step 2. Reshape your personal role

CIOs must reframe their role in enterprise strategy development to be effective. Think like a designer by taking a customer-centric perspective to reframe business challenges. Connect the dots to bridge the gap between technology trends and business. Practice entrepreneurism with a mindset that is relentless in the pursuit of outcomes and a resourceful attitude that enlists the support of the wider organization.

Step 3. Build capabilities to ensure your strategy is effective

In Gartner’s 2018 CIO survey, 46% of respondents identified culture as the main barrier to scaling digital business. Sinha says CIOs need to address the culture challenge head on.

“Too often strategies focus on what is familiar,” she says. “Task your team with providing frequent insight, especially from customers, and feed it into strategy conversations.”

To contribute effectively to strategy, you’ll need to have the right roles in place. In particular, you’ll need a strong facilitator – someone to run the process, get the right people together and work with you on renewing your strategic planning process.

Then, deliver. Tangible business impact will keep you at the strategy table.

This article has been updated from the original, published on November 21, 2017, to reflect new events, conditions or research.

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Gartner clients can read more in The Specific Role of the CIO in Strategy by Monika Sinha.

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