To lead a technology team, immerse yourself in the business first

To lead a technology team, immerse yourself in the business first

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Leading a technology team these days — whether you’re a chief information officer, chief innovation officer, or other IT manager — is no longer a matter of corralling programmers and administrators into a common purpose. Now, CIOs and other tech leaders need to corral the rest of the business into their orbits as well. The question is: Are IT teams still too entangled in managing infrastructure, applications, and related security issues to lead their businesses down new paths?  

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Technology leaders such as CIOs are increasingly tasked with running the business and moving it forward, a recent Deloitte survey of 211 CIOs confirms. Close to half of the respondents, 46%, report their greatest priority this year is shaping, aligning, and delivering a unified tech strategy and vision. 

In addition, they have high visibility, and many roles beyond the CIO are now involved. Nearly two-thirds (63%) say they report directly to the CEO. Transformation and innovation also topped to-do lists of tech heads, at 59%. A majority of tech leaders, 54%, consider themselves to be change agents. Currently, 83% of organizations have either a CIO or chief digital information officer, 52% have a chief technology officer, 31% have a chief information security officer, 30% have a chief data analytics officer, and 22% have a chief technology innovation officer. 

Moving into these technology leadership roles means “not only have a firm grasp of the tech landscape and the capabilities available, but they are becoming fully immersed in the business and market trends, Anjali Shaikh, managing director and CIO program experience director at Deloitte Consulting, told ZDNET. “This ability to be ‘bilingual’ puts tech leaders at a clear advantage within the business because they can translate the complexities of technology and clearly communicate the value it can bring and the problems it can solve.”  

Here are what CIOs and tech leaders are focusing on this year:

  • Staying ahead of emerging technologies and solutions (such as AI/generative AI, Quantum, AR/VR).
  • Embracing the full potential of data, analytics, AI, and machine learning.
  • Mitigating cyber risks and preventing cyber incidents and attacks.
  • Organizing, managing, and rationalizing technology strategy inside the organization.

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“There is no denying the pervasiveness of AI, both culturally and within businesses, and it will certainly bring change,” Lou DiLorenzo Jr., principal and national CIO program leader for Deloitte, told ZDNET. CIOs and tech leaders across the board “are working to understand how to make a positive and valuable impact and are helping educate those within the enterprise about AI and other technologies so they too can have a full understanding of their value and potential.”   

Still, AI is but one part of a technology leader’s job. 

“Embracing AI, machine learning, and analytics has ranked second only to a focus on staying ahead of emerging technologies,” DiLorenzo said. “Keeping up with the rapid clip of change in tech is certainly a challenge for tech leaders, especially since they may be learning about the new technologies, identifying opportunities within the organization based on needs and priorities, and communicating value to the business almost simultaneously.”

There’s a lot of basic technology work on the ground that still has to be done. Only one-third of technology leaders grade their organizations as “leading edge” in talent management, optimizing IT strategy, and sustainable IT.    

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When asked to rank the defining characteristics of a leading CIO, respondents were split between the conventional (those viewed by themselves and others as running IT) and contemporary (those embracing the opportunity and reinventing the CIO role), saying the traditional, more IT-centric qualities are just as important as the strategic and more customer-focused ones.   

While aligning tech vision and strategy with the business has been the role of CIOs and technology leaders for some time, the scope of their duties now extends deeper into the business itself. 

“Establishing and managing a tech vision isn’t enough,” said DiLorenzo. “Today’s CIOs need to own all the various technology uses across their organizations and ensure they’re actively coordinating and orchestrating their fellow tech leaders — as well as their business peers — to co-create a vision and tech strategy that aligns with, and furthers, the overall enterprise strategy.”

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Getting to a leadership position also requires immersing oneself in the business, Shaikh advised. “Business acumen, which includes understanding various business functions and industry dynamics, can be cultivated by spending time in business units,” she said. “This understanding is crucial for strategic thinking, to help identify opportunities where technology can impact goals.”

Part and parcel of any tech leadership position is excellent communication skills, Shaikh continued. “Leading cross-functional projects that cut across departments and involve stakeholders from different roles can foster these skills. Collaboration and relationship-building across departments, vital for fostering partnerships, can be developed by leading cross-functional projects and building an external network of peers, advisors, and thought leaders.”

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