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How CIOs can effectively influence in the digital age

How CIOs can effectively influence in the digital age

You’re moving into the corporate minefield of enterprise politics — so watch your step.

The IT strategy will be the lifeline for the business in the future. Your opportunity (and challenge) is to convince the business of this.

Helen Huntley, Gartner

Is your business desperately trying to figure out the winning strategy given today's disruptive technologies, uncertain market conditions and changing competitive landscape?

You may have hit the realisation that what has worked for your business before won't moving forward, and to make things even harder, the new way hasn’t yet taken form.

Welcome to the digital age — and to the huge opportunity this provides for you as a CIO to demonstrate leadership for the entire business. The IT strategy will be the lifeline for the business in the future. Your opportunity (and challenge) is to convince the business of this.

You’re moving into the corporate minefield of enterprise politics — so watch your step. You do, however, have to move through this to get to the new way of operating.

In the past, business politics was simply the process of resolving conflicts and making decisions.

Today, it involves building coalitions, overcoming resistance and taking control of how others perceive you, as well as reshaping those perceptions.

For the foreseeable future, it’s via politics that organisations determine how much they’ll spend on technology and what technology investments they’ll make. However, all of the parties involved enter it with different agendas, motivations and perceptions.

As a CIO, politics requires inserting yourself into the centre of an accelerating cycle of:
· Opportunity identification (what trends are approaching?);
· Evaluating options (which technologies and capabilities need to be deployed and developed?);
· Making decisions (what, when and how will we adapt?); and
· Acting (doing something about the trends you observe).


The art of having the proverbial 'seat at the table' rests squarely on understanding the politics of the C-suite.

Helen Huntley, Gartner

Becoming a business enabler

While CIOs have always been leaders, they led with a strong focus on hard skills, deep technology and a critical understanding of how to build and run IT operations.

Digital business is now giving CIOs greater opportunities to enable (and even propel) the business. With this change comes a need for enhanced soft skills, an understanding of how to lead across the enterprise, not solely within IT.

The art of having the proverbial "seat at the table" rests squarely on understanding the politics of the C-suite. Using politics requires your role to master leadership, culture and people dynamics in the digital age, which can be achieved by:

Forming coalitions
Digital business initiatives have added to the complexity of the CIO's realm of authority and influence of IT, and the need for quick decision making to keep up with business demands. With the depth and breadth of business goals supported by IT, the job of the CIO has significantly expanded, and now requires mastery of collaborative leadership and building coalitions to make decisions, gain support and get things done.

Building influence to overcome resistance
Resistance is real – you can’t ignore, hide or run from it. Unless you take the time to understand and acknowledge resistance, you’ll struggle. Successful CIOs know the agenda, priorities and goals of the business leaders they interact with in the enterprise and how they’re perceived. Deal with it head on and as soon as practicable.

Taking control of how others perceive you
To take control of others' perceptions; you must first decide what you want to be known for. Once you’re clear on this, you must find out how others actually view you. CIOs are well-served to ask their peers and other stakeholders about their views; then consider their feedback, and assess the gap. Once you start behaving in the way that's consistent with what you want to be known for, your credibility will increase. People will know what to expect from you and your IT organisation.

Improving your soft skills
To be effective, you have to become a master of soft skills in your approach to mastering business politics. In the digital age, these soft skills are communication, teamwork and conflict management. You must also build and weld your individual power delicately, and unite individuals and groups in a common business direction through coalitions. It’s important to take control of how others perceive you, your position and the role you play in the enterprise. As a CIO you must also build bridges between business buyers/decision makers and IT.

Helen Huntley is a research vice president at Gartner. She provides guidance to CIOs and senior IT leaders on sourcing strategy; supplier evaluation; contracting, negotiations and renegotiations; vendor management; and multi-vendor delivery for staff augmentation/contingent labour, project sourcing or long-term outsourcing deals.

You must build and weld your individual power delicately, and unite individuals and groups in a common business direction through coalitions.
You must build and weld your individual power delicately, and unite individuals and groups in a common business direction through coalitions.

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