The Changing Role of the CIO

Mel Kirk, SVP & CIO, Ryder System, Inc.
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Mel Kirk, SVP & CIO, Ryder System, Inc.

The role of CIO has changed dramatically over the years. In the past, companies placed an emphasis on installing technologists into the position due to a general lack of deep understanding of their own technological landscape. It was more important to have someone who understood the ones and zeroes of information technology than the ones and zeroes of costs and benefits.

Today, things are very different. As the technology we use in our personal and professional lives becomes simpler to use and understand, an effective CIO must be more of a “businessologist” so to speak than a technologist. They have to be someone who grasps the technological vision and capabilities of the infrastructure, but also has a well-rounded perspective on the financial and operational impact of developing and deploying these systems. For years there has been a knowledge gap between the IT departments of large companies and their business counterparts. The CIO must be a subject matter expert in both areas to bridge the two worlds and implement sound, cost-effective solutions with the functionality the business needs in order to be successful.

The market is demanding simpler, more intuitive applications to perform business operations developed at lightning speed. High impact projects that would have taken a year in the past must be designed, developed and deployed in half that time in order to adequately meet customer needs. With the growth of plug and play tools enabled by cloud based technology, which enables scale elasticity to meet customer demand in shorter time cycles, these things are “technologically” possible but can quickly become financially difficult if the proper processes and tollgates are not put into place. The scope of projects can quickly spin out of control if the Chief Executive of the department is unable or unwilling to clamp down on folks not following the established processes or addressing risks before they impact budgets. The role of CIO has transformed just as the technology they oversee has transformed.

  The role of CIO has transformed just as the technology they oversee has transformed 

Given the new capabilities that modern technology provides, the IT organization is tasked with being a key enabler of the new growth that is possible. Systems need to be scalable, cost-effective and reliable. They also need to have the ability to provide valuable business intelligence and reporting so that both internal and external customers can have the ability to customize their reports to facilitate the needs of their particular business unit. The idea is to establish a technological framework that allows every part of your business to leverage the strength of the entire organization to achieve its goals.

Developing and leveraging modern systems is only half of the challenge, the other half is accounting for the various ways in which technology affects the behavior of your customers. In light of the ever growing reach of Big Data, the quantity of available data has grown tremendously. The key to effectively leveraging Big Data is to partner up with business operations in order to understand what key questions need to be answered. Individuals, and therefore customers, are accustomed to having access to any information they can think of at any given moment right at their fingertips. It is therefore up to companies and more specifically CIOs to find ways to provide higher quality of data through the most optimal means possible. This is where mobile, cloud and integration technology capabilities come into play, as they are the three pillars to establishing a comprehensive data management framework that can be leveraged to push out valuable and actionable data to all stakeholders.

Some of the lessons I have learned as CIO thus far center largely on how people, process and technology interact with each other in a typical business environment. When steering the technological strategy of a company, it’s very easy to get bogged down in the technical aspect of projects. My general advice for fellow CIOs is to truly embrace the old phrase “think smart, not hard.” There will come times when you are faced with a challenge that several other people couldn’t figure out the solution to because they can’t see the forest from the trees. It’s our job to be the one with a larger perspective and have the insight to see the solution, which may be simpler than the people who are too close to it think.

It’s important to make it a point to challenge the status quo and reject assertions that “this is how it has always been done.” The CIO is not only the company’s technology leader but also the Change Management leader. There will always be sacred cows that need to be slaughtered in order for progress to take place. Setting the tone for your organization by not being afraid to be the one to do it comes with the territory. The only way to stay competitive in the 21st century is to stay innovative. Adopting the latest cutting edge technology is a tall order for any organization, so it’s up to the CIO to ensure that there is enough credibility behind the idea to get it done.

Finally, the most important thing to emphasize when implementing new systems and a broad change management strategy is communication. This is overlooked by too many organizations both large and small. Effective communication between IT and the business as well as between IT and business customers is essential if meaningful work is going to be done. The scope of projects begins to blow up and all because there was inadequate communication between all stakeholders. Dedicating resources to facilitating communication in all directions is a cornerstone to a sound change management strategy. Channels, audiences, tactics and methods need to be clearly defined and acted upon on an ongoing basis.

The role of CIO is changing, but our mission has not. Our job is to enable the organization to win business while transforming its infrastructure to meet the needs of today. The CIO of any business holds the keys to that company’s future and it is not simply a position to be filled, but an honor and a privilege.

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