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Speed of innovation and other top CIO challenges

Keeping up with the speed of innovation is only one of many hurdles today's CIOs must clear. In this #CIOChat recap, take a look at the top CIO challenges in today's digital era.

Today, being a great CIO no longer just means making sure IT systems are running smoothly and delivering services...

according to business needs. In fact, modern CIOs are so much more, as a recent Gartner CIO survey shows: Not only do the CIOs surveyed expect to take the lead in their organizations' digitization efforts, but their CEOs also believe that they should take on this charge as their companies continue to make the transition into digital enterprises.

Adapting their leadership to a digitally centric one, however, is no mean feat. While continuing to deliver on the IT essentials is certainly still important, CIOs must now also use their role as IT operators as a foundation on which to build innovative pursuits. On top of that, they're faced with the task of not only meeting business demands in a rapidly changing technology landscape, but also teaching business partners about emerging technologies before they might even see the value and opportunity they offer.

In this #CIOChat recap, editors and participants examine the top challenges today's CIOs face as companies become increasingly digital -- and as they strive to establish their role's ever-growing significance.

What's the biggest challenge facing today's CIOs?

Tweet chatters were quick to point out that CIOs today have the tall order of balancing running IT operations and delivering value to the business. The latter not only means reacting to the needs of the business as they arise, but also working side by side with business partners to help them get a better understanding of technological opportunities:

Collaborating with the business is easier said than done, however, as many chat attendees pointed out. One big hurdle for CIOs is justifying their seat at the C-suite table:

For CIOs to gain credibility among their business peers, they must step outside the IT domain to get non-IT experience, according to Ian Cox, author of Disrupt IT: A New Model for IT in the Digital Age. And one high-profile CIO who's done just that, Andi Karaboutis of Dell, said it turned out to be her best IT training. "It provided me a lens on the tools and the technology from the business user's perspective, not from the IT perspective," she said.

Another sure way to get executive peers to give you more airtime in a board meeting? Innovation talk, said Jill Dyché, author of The New IT: How Technology Leaders are Enabling Business Strategy in the Digital Age. "If you want to start talking about a culture of innovation and how to formalize things like discovery work, leaders are all over those conversations. And IT should be right in the middle of them," she said.

And for CIOs to be able to take the lead on innovation, they can't ignore their operational responsibilities, said Andi Mann and CIO Kevin Dunn:

As more than one person noted, maintaining and improving a well-oiled IT infrastructure is a necessary foundation on which CIOs can innovate. But how can a CIO even begin to think about adding innovation on top of their day-to-day IT tasks? Start with radical simplification, CIO expert Harvey Koeppel advises. "Continue to refine your IT and operations architecture based upon a solid understanding of your business architecture. Much redundancy has likely been, of necessity, eliminated during the economic downturn," he said.

Pursuing innovative projects while keeping up the pace of technology change is no small undertaking, however:

One way to keep up with the speed of innovation is to think like a venture capitalist: Take calculated risks in certain disruptive technologies, perhaps even before the business sees their value. These risks need to be balanced with legacy investments and be run by the rest of the C-suite. "CIOs need to place bets … that a given product or service is going to hit the market at the right time and fill a niche that others don't," said former CIO Charles Weston, now a member of VC Sierra Ventures' CIO advisory board. Even after business partners can be convinced of these technologies' potential value, however, CIOs need to be prepared to fail, he cautioned.

Sometimes the biggest obstacles on the path to innovation come from within the IT department, either from out-of-touch employees or from CIOs themselves:

Indeed, one of the biggest barriers to innovation is managers who discourage their employees from sharing new ideas or branching out beyond their day jobs. "The best practice is to position innovation as inclusive," Dyché urged.

Participant Brian Katz also cautioned that CIOs must keep their communication lines open to be clear on what exactly is expected of them and which initiatives they're expected to lead:

Some initiatives modern CIOs will very likely be expected to have high on their agenda are security and governance, as follower David Colgren brought up:

Koeppel agrees, urging CIOs to make sure that their organizations' event response teams and escalation and communication procedures are up to snuff: "Cybersecurity is no longer about 'if,' but rather about 'when.'"

Your two cents: What challenges do modern CIOs face? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

This tweet recap is part of our #CIOChat on the evolving CIO role, hosted by SearchCIO. For more recaps and further information on our next tweet chat, follow @SearchCIO on Twitter.

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