CIO Paradox #1: Two-in-One CIO

This blog is based on the book The CIO Paradox – Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership written by Martha Heller and it tackles the daily challenges that CIOs face in their job.

One of the biggest challenge CIOs face is the drive for innovation while at the same time keeping the infrastructure secure and efficient. 

These are two important roles of a CIO, just as how these two CIO put it: 


This brings us with the fact that:

As CIO, you are the steward of cost containment, yet you must also innovate.
And we are introduced to the following truth of what IT should & be bringing about:

    1. The roles of IT right now is to deliver IT projects in a cost-effective way, you also need to have full accountability for the business outcomes of IT, & cost effectiveness and innovation.
    2. 2. The twin goals of IT have been efficiency and productivity, and the CIO’s role has been to make everything faster and cheaper.
    3. 3. Cloud, consumerization, and mobility have moved CIOs into a new zone and have created a new set of responsibilities and business expectations.
    4. 4. The new dimension for IT contribution is business model innovation.
    5. 5. IT Team has to give up the defensive stance and be an active driver in changing the way your company does business. Business model innovation is the new contribution of IT.

How can you now, as a CIO achieve this

We can learn from the natural world of the value of flexibility and adaptation.


Be a Chameleon 

    1. To be a Chameleon means to reassess the skills you bring to the job. Know your strengths that will help you bring innovation.
    2. People believe that IT is about technology, but it’s really a behavioural science. You must bring innovation along the natural flow of the organization. Innovation should not be disruptive.
    3. IT is about understanding the behaviours of your company’s staff, leaders, and customersAs how Chameleon camouflages within its environment, you can integrate innovation by understanding how things work within.
    4. IT is facilitating the adoption of a new vision. Once a Chameleon copies its surrounding, it blends in, it’s not vividly seen, BUT its there, innovation should be like that.
    5. IT innovation should be viewed not as project delivery, change management, and business process reengineering, but as setting a vision for business model innovation. 

The thing is some CIOs simply do not have the chameleon factor that allows them to move from project delivery to business model innovation. CIOs should establish firm footing for themselves as operational leaders and leave the business model innovation to other executives. 


Here’s how you can effectively do this: 

Develop a Really Effective Metaphor 

    1. You will need to develop new ways to communicate the multifaceted role of IT. 
    2. Developing a new metaphor can help your team & the organization see the IT team’s new role and direction. 
    3. Use a metaphor that can show how you move from innovating towards adaption and successful implementation.
    4. Your metaphor should help you manage your business according to your service level, if you’re international, go for an international business process. 
    5. Through an effective metaphor you can show clearly the course for an organization, strategy, and road map that will allow IT to reduce costs and drive innovation at the same time.  



Keep it Simple 


    1. Refrain forming complexities and barriers for what you want to do and we overlook the simplest solution. 
    2. To combat that tendency use this formula: Speed = Innovation × Simplicity. 
    3. Standardize functions and processes on a global basis. 


Use that simplicity to embed innovation in your organization 

    1. Embed innovation into our existing operations. That way, you get innovation, speed, and cost advantages all at the same time. 
    2. Take away the complexity and simplify what you have. 
    3. Maximize global leverage platforms, to push change or innovation. 


Eighty percent is good enough 

    1. Do not let one aspect of the project drag your whole innovation plan. 
    2. Solve the infinite project first, then find a solution to fix that aspect one aspect. 

Use newer companies, like Google, as your benchmark 

    1. Benchmark shouldn’t be the best in our industry; it should be the best of breed regardless of industry. 
    2. Take insights from companies that have integrated new innovations in their organization, this can better help you understand what works and what does not. 


Reorganize for Innovation 

Make your relationship managers accountable for innovation 

    1. Have relationship managers whose job is to interface and manage demand. 
    2. The challenge on innovation comes in because there is lack of ownership of CIOs on the business output.  
    3. When CIOs are involved in the delivery and execution have better opportunities in integrating innovation.  

Create an innovation group 

    1. Do not to carve out a separate group for innovation.
    2. Involve people in the innovation plan, because if you don’t make innovation somebody’s job, it will be pushed to the side. 
    3. Make sure that your group is made of people who can work with less structure than what most IT positions require. 
    4. Resist the urge to lay too many rules or structure on the group. 


Build a Culture of Innovation 

    1. Engage with all of the different business owners to learn the good, the bad, and the ugly as it related to IT’s ability to support the business’s needs.  
    2. Start to address operational issues and stabilize the environment. 
    3. Engage with the IT organization and assess the capabilities of the team. 

The most successful CIOs (the ones who have broken the paradox) are those who do more than apply IT to business problems.  


CIOs who have broken the paradox take the expertise they have developed in their role as leaders of the IT department and use it to make improvements across the enterprise. 

The question now is how will you maximize what IT can do? Here’s how… 

Change the mission statement 

Ask yourself the following questions: 

    1. What is our core purpose?  
    2. What is our mission?  
    3. What are the principles and tenets that we believe in?  
    4. How are we going to behave?’ 

Re-aligning or updating your mission will better show you where is your direction. 


Change the physical environment 

    1. The physical environment plays a big role in encouraging innovative and creative minds. 
    2. Create a working space that encourages limitless creativity and ideas for innovation.  
    3. Creativity is hampered because there are roadblocks, these may be prejudice, inhibitions, or doubts, make sure that the ideas of your team are always valued and important. 


Start a CIO fund 

    1. Start creating a fund where you can get the resources for innovation. 
    2. Adequate funding encourages your team members explore and share their ideas on what to innovate or how to do it. 
    3. Great ideas will only remain ideas if you do not have the resources to apply them.  

To ensure the success and continuity of innovation make sure that you have the necessary resources. 


Give a little money to enterprise architecture 

    1. Supporting your team will help them better to bring more innovations. 
    2. Funding shows that you support innovation, and that you are willing to take the risk with them to find innovative solutions. 


Change your meetings 

    1. Remember that technologists are different, and if you squash that difference, you stand to lose some of their brilliance. 
    2. Create meetings environment that suits with your team, where they can express their ideas and opinions related to the subject matter. 

Get over with the cyclic type of meetings, make your meetings where everyone is heard, where everyone can share their ideas and contribute 




As CIO you must: 

Save money and spend money at the same time.  

Be both risk averse and a risk taker.  

Simultaneously to look “down and in” and “up and out.” 


To further help you in solving the challenges between being cost-efficient yet innovative, consider 

  • Simplicity 
  • 80% is good enough 
  • Focus your team on innovation 
  • Find new ways to communicate 
  • Be a chameleon 


Remember that the first step into solving your problems is acting on it. As a CIO being cost-effective and bringing innovation into your organization is the first step into solving your problems.

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