Prior to fuel injection, carburetors in aging cars often flooded when too much fuel  entered the engine prior to combustion. As I interview CIOs and other business executives, a common lament reminds me of the flooded carburetor challenge. 

The CIO, IT management team and business executives are simultaneously attempting to do the following:  transform the legacy, adapt to new alternative IT delivery platforms, reinvent their business and succeed with  demanding digital initiatives. Most say they are suffering from a flooding business-technology deluge that is resulting in delayed and sub-standard accomplishments.

While not directly accountable for all the initiatives underway, a CIO recently told me of her ongoing juggling act:

  • Migrating over 4,000 existing apps to various cloud alternatives.
  • Moving to DevOps and easier provisioning.
  • Converting to an applications programing interface (API)-based architecture.
  • Supporting over 20 major classic IT projects.
  • Reducing technical debt and rationalizing over 900 critical apps.
  • Prodding 50 major vendors, technologies, providers and contractors to play nice together.
  • Implementing and integrating over 200 “known” software-as-a-service (SaaS) services company-wide.
  • Supporting the reinvention of over 150 business units, models or functions.
  • Staying current with 300-plus digital initiatives in-progress, such as IoT, big data, analytics, blockchain, social and mobile, for which if anything goes wrong, she will be held accountable.

Many of these programs are seen by the initiator or owner as “relatively standalone.” But when this CIO considers issues such as resources, overlap, impact on data, support, integration with databases, security, change control, tool selection and ongoing ownership, she doesn’t see them as standalone. She and her team are swamped, diligently supporting all of these initiatives, in addition to other IT duties.  Such duties include socializing IT, reporting to senior management, keeping up with industry trends and enhancing her relationship with an ever changing set of business executives. Like her, many CIOs and IT leaders have flooded management carburetors.

CIOs must also deal with the pundits, vendors, academics and business users decrying IT for not moving with enough speed, flexibility and agility. Layered on top of the day-to-day CIO responsibilities, as well as dealing with these challenges and suggestions, adds to the incoming confusion.  Some CIOs are challenged to give quality attention to the few really important things on their agendas.

How to Survive the Onslaught

To address these challenges, several CIOs I recently visited have added:

  • A chief of staff: Reporting to the CIO, they “organize the victory” for the CIO. They maintain an orderly set of priorities, urgencies, agendas and oversights for the CIO.
  • Digital coordinators: The chief of staff may organize the victory for the CIO, but two types of coordinators are also engaged. The digital strategist develops the overall agenda for IT and enterprise digital efforts. The digital orchestrator sees that all moving parts are coordinated on a daily or weekly basis. They also intercede to get efforts back on track.
  • An IT/digital operating officer: This is a line rather than staff position that assumes responsibility for the planning, execution, coordination and inspection of the IT and digital activities underway.
  • A digital war room: Usually set up by a chief of staff or chief IT operating executive, this is a physical, or more likely, a virtual location, site or presence to illuminate all that is underway and subject to tracking and coordination.  

As I’ve suggested in many of my Cognizanti articles, organizations can’t tweak themselves to digitally enhance their businesses.  (Here’s my latest commentary.) Bold management and organizational steps are often cited as more critical than just picking bold IT or digital initiatives. However, there appears to be a logical order to the management proposals outlined above.

The CIO chief of staff is usually the easiest proposal, with the most immediate impact. It may not solve the IT/digital effort success issues, but it should provide a more logical, prioritized agenda for the CIO. The other proposals should not be implemented at once. Most often, it’s best to start with an IT/digital operating officer who can determine which of the other proposals may be needed and in what order. After typically a few months, the operating executive will be in the best position to identify the issues and enablers of increased IT and digital success.

In my next blog, I’ll provide a view of the broader bold management and organizational moves I encounter as enterprises prepare for an even more demanding future.

Bruce Rogow

Bruce Rogow

Bruce J. Rogow is a Principal at IT Odyssey and Advisory in Marblehead, Mass. Known as the counselor to CIOs and CEOs... Read more