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Leadership / Innovation

From delivery to value creation: How CIOs can boost the top line

Today’s CEOs expect their technology leaders to drive growth, writes guest author Cathy Holley. For some, this requires a shift in mindset.

The prime role of any commercial CIO, as for any member of the executive committee (exco), is to help the organisation generate more profit. Historically, many CIOs have focussed on efficiencies and cost reduction which impact the bottom line. The very best CIOs, however, focus more on value generation. Today, CEOs expect their CIOs to have the commercial acuity to recognise opportunities to introduce new technologies which will boost the top line.

Almost all new products and services hitting the market today are underpinned by technology, and that most CIOs are high-IQ, analytical problem solvers, this should play to their strengths. So how can CIOs move from delivering solutions suggested by their peers, to a highly prized creator of value?

cio value creation
Today, CEOs expect their CIOs to have the commercial acuity to recognise opportunities to introduce new technologies which will boost the top line. (Photo by Oatawa/Shutterstock)

Step one is clearly to understand your own company’s P&L and how it makes money – which product lines, geographies and markets are making revenue, and which are not sustainable. The CIO should be well-positioned to know which customers are profitable, since they have access to all the data on segmentation and, hopefully, they should have an interest in their current and would-be competitors and how they see the world. Would you be surprised to know that a fair few CIOs I have interviewed had clearly never given any of the above much thought? (For the record, that is an instant “get your coat” moment in an interview).

The CIO’s role in value creation

It’s never too late to learn about your business. Everyone likes to be considered an expert, so if you ask your CFO or marketing director for their insight, they will almost certainly be delighted to share it – after all, they cannot do their roles without you. As you learn more, you will feel more confident suggesting ideas on how to get from A to B quicker, and hopefully, come up with suggestions on new products or services. Many will revolve around better use of data or new technology such as IoT, AI, and robotic process automation and none of your peers will be able to scan the horizon as effectively as you to identify opportunities to create new revenue streams.

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However, ideation isn’t the only useful skill in value generation. Your company is probably full of people bursting with ideas and a good CIO will help the firm inculcate a culture of innovation where every idea is considered (albeit briefly) and the best are taken forward and given the right resources to test their potential. Who better than the CIO, with their helicopter view of the organisation, to see who needs to be involved to bring an idea to fruition?

A good CIO will help the firm inculcate a culture of innovation where every idea is considered.

Ultimately, as your knowledge of the company grows, your radar will be as sharp as any other exco member in terms of spotting what ideas will fly and what should be strangled at birth. It’s also good due diligence to solicit other opinions and provide an opportunity to build relationships and, with them, your confidence as a business leader.

The CIO is a starring, not a supporting, role and there is no reason you cannot become the CEO’s right-hand man or woman. You will know when you’ve achieved this when they consult you first about major strategic initiatives, rather than let you know as an afterthought.

For some CIOs, forging this new, commercial path will feel like a bold leap but in many organisations, you will be welcomed with open arms as they recognise your new status as a true business partner. You might also ask about being sponsored to attend business courses.

In others, you will be firmly pushed back into your technology delivery box. If so, time for a move?

For more information on CIO coaching, visit CIODevelopment.

Cathy Holley spent 25 years as a CIO headhunter and has placed some of the world's leading CIOs – she now coaches CIOs looking for their next role, as part of the team at CIODevelopment.