CIO Matters

A CIO's journey to IT transformation begins with 10 steps

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This has been quite a year for changes in IT. I sometimes feel like an overmatched boxer in the ring. As soon as I think I have a good handle on the changing state of technology and my CIO role, something new comes along and lands another punch on my jaw. And, as the pace of technology change continues to accelerate, the hits will keep coming. Here is what I learned in 2013 and where I think IT transformation will be in 2014.

Niel NickolaisenNiel Nickolaisen

In spite of our concerns about and uneasiness with the cloud, it is a certainty. This past year, I made a single hardware purchase. That purchase was to expand my storage. I also vowed that this one would be my last storage purchase as we move our never- and rarely-accessed data to slow and cheap storage in the cloud. I did not make a single server purchase while still handling a significant growth in employees and customers.

My legacy complexity only gets in the way of our IT agility. My stated goal is for IT to be faster than the organization. We have accomplished that except where our work touches my un-architected, overly complex, and highly customized legacy environment. My plans for 2014 include dedicating resources to blowing up and rebuilding that environment.

For the first time in the history of the world, we are the persons and teams who can help the organization own the future.

I can use analytics to prove the value of IT. In early 2013, we experimented with and piloted advanced customer analytics. At the risk of sounding too arrogant, we knocked it out of the park. The results of these analyses have changed how the organization thinks and operates. In parallel, everyone really believes that we IT-types are amazing. We can already measure the impact of these projects on customer retention. We will continue to focus on and innovate our analytics in 2014 and, probably, forever.

In 2013, we made significant strides in shifting how many resources we apply to new projects and innovation. Through a combination of prioritization and standardization, we were able to allocate just over 50% of our IT resources to new projects. In an environment in which the entire organization is now dependent on IT and demands more from IT, we have to get out of the business of maintaining and enhancing our legacy systems and processes. With so much new stuff coming our way, we simply do not have the time to keep our focus on the old stuff. For the first time in the history of the world, we are the persons and teams who can help the organization own the future. We cannot seize this opportunity if we spend our time making business rule changes to how we process payables!

It's IT transformation or bust

A year of CIO advice from Niel Nickolaisen

A CIO goes beyond Agile and straight to the drawing board

Rolling out a mission-critical application: We can do better

A CIO navigates between the cloud and a legacy system

Ease of use or enterprise security: What's a CIO to do?

It's a mobile-first world and that means mobile BI too

 A CIO's five-point plan for managing endpoint security

A CIO asks if enterprise social networks are worth it

CIO POV: Embrace new wave of consumer 'killer apps'

Information systems management from a product POV

 Data storage strategy: Pre- and post-cloud computing

Along those lines, 2014 is the time to become transformational leaders. The organization needs us to be effective in leading change, delivering value and moving into the future (because the future is all about technology). A friend recently asked me what I meant by "transformational leaders." To me, being transformational means that I:

  • Recognize that my role is to create a culture where innovation and motivation thrive.
  • Accept the reality that I, by myself, will never have the answers the organization needs.
  • Thus, believe that collaboration is the only meaningful way to deal with both ambiguity and market dynamics.
  • Focus innovation on the few areas that lead to competitive advantage.
  • Create a culture of trust and be trustworthy.
  • Create a culture of ownership and never take ownership away.
  • Continuously improve processes through simplification and standardization.
  • Can clearly articulate the why of what must be done -- the why is the vision that others will follow.
  • Hold myself and others accountable, but blame and fix processes (rather than individuals or teams) if things do not go as planned.
  • Think "outside /in" by understanding the lives and needs of customers.

The pace of 2013 was crazy. I expect the pace of 2014 to be insane followed by whatever is beyond insane in 2015.

About the author:
Niel Nickolaisen is CIO at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City. He is a frequent speaker, presenter and writer on IT's dual role enabling strategy and delivering operational excellence. Write to him at nnick@wgu.edu.

This was first published in December 2013

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