Double Agent

The CIO as change leader
Reprinted from CIO Magazine (Australia) May 2001
By Steve Amesbury

The role of the CIO continues to evolve: Information and technology guru to the board, strategist, mentor and corporate player. Not all roles will be detailed in the ever-expanding job description. Technology continues change the way we do business, and the CIO can play a vital role ensuring that the business is ready for the next onslaught.

The old saying is that there are two certainties in life: Death and taxes. Perhaps we should add ‘change’ to that list.  Nowhere is change more evident than in the field of Information Management and Technology.

Processors have become faster, hardware smaller, and software bigger.  Disk space, once a premium resource,  is now so inexpensive as to hardly merit consideration.  A number of today’s CIOs are veterans who thrived in this maelstrom of change.  Where lesser individuals were dragged under, these leaders rose to the most senior IM&T role.

IM&T has emerged from the shadows of the netherworld to become a shining new star in the corporate firmament. In more mundane terms, it has evolved from a back-office support division to become a strategic marketing weapon. Whether it be e-business, customer relationship management, or supply chain management, it is difficult to imagine a large corporation without an information technology enabled business strategy.

Changes brought to organisations through increasingly complex and costly projects are more far reaching than the progress of technology. By guiding these projects, the CIO fulfills one of the prime objectives in ensuring the alignment of the technologies and systems to the business objectives.

I have been involved in many successful projects over the years. In one case I was acting as CIO and Sponsor in a project that spanned three years and which directly involved over ten percent of business staff.  Jobs were deleted as a result of this work. A smaller number of new positions were created, and many others modified to some extent.  For the first time in my experience, we had a full time change management group within the project team. These people had no IT background to speak of, but had expertise in training, human relations, and communication. 

It was this project that crystallized for me the need for the CIO to be more than an ‘enabler’ of change, The CIO must be a change leader.  As any CIO who is part of the executive team, I had a corporate responsibility for the successful outcome of IT-enabled projects. Like it or not, change management is a key contributor to most, if not all large projects. Get it wrong and the whole project is in danger.

A change manager is often the person drawing up plans, conducting impact analyses, designing training, redeveloping jobs, communicating progress, etc.

The CIO as a change leader ensures the environment is conducive to a successful outcome. Few people in an organization have sufficient knowledge and the seniority to carry this off.  I am not talking wishy-washy motherhood here; there are difficult and at times nasty jobs to be done to create an environment of success.  The change leader has to ensure that there is a project champion appointed who has the motivation and seniority (power) to make things happen, such as ensuring the project is staffed by the people you actually need, not just those that happen to be free at the time.

The CIO needs to ensure that the CEO fully understands all of the potential risks and benefits and actively promotes the project. Having the CEO on board is just the start. On corporate projects, the entire senior management team must be seen giving one hundred percent support.  As in other fields of leadership, they have to be seen as role models – walking the talk. 

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