What Does It Mean to Be a Strategic CIO?
Research shows that senior executives are strategic. And increasingly,
CIOs are called upon to be strategic. The CIO Executive Council future
state model emphasizes the importance of this trait for success.
But what does it really mean to be strategic? Is being strategic
different from planning strategically? And how does it differ from
thinking strategically? As a strategy consultant for the past 25 years,
with over 100 strategy engagements conducted with major corporations, I
will take a stab at these questions.
First of all, being strategic is not primarily about the IT strategy;
it’s about the business strategy and how IT contributes value to it.
But for this to happen, the CIO must understand the business strategy,
and understanding it, know how and where to position IT for maximum
We could elaborate further and say that being strategic is a mindset;
it’s a way of thinking about future events and being able to see how
the many pieces form a pattern. In the military, it’s the “win the
war” thinking of generals at the top of the organization.
In order for the CIO to be truly strategic, she must have in-depth
knowledge in the following areas:
1. The Strategy Creation Process – is there a best way to create
strategy? Who should be involved and what elements must the process
include? How do we use strategy process to determine the next big trend?
2. Alternative Strategy Models – the changing emphasis on the role of
strategy; a reversal of the thinking – planning – acting paradigm.
3. Strategy Concepts – strategic identity, business concept,
competitive differentiation, distinctive competencies, the
innovation-centered enterprise, etc.
4. The Strategy Vernacular – mission, vision, goals, strategies, core
competencies. What do these mean and why does it matter? Why does the
common practice of confusing a strategy with a goal always produce
5. Strategy Principles – what strategic principle did Digital
Equipment Corporation (DEC) violate that led eventually to its dramatic
6. The Tools of the Strategy Practitioner – value discipline, strategy
canvas, driving force, critical success factors, etc.
7. Leading Strategy Thought Leaders and What They are Saying – Adrian
Slywotzky, Gary Hamel, Michael Porter, Clay Christensen, James Moore,
Michel Robert, etc.
8. The Strategy Execution Process – why do only 10% of strategic
initiatives get executed successfully and only 5% of corporate employees
understand their company’s strategy? What is the best operational
model to turn strategic thinking into successful strategy execution?
If you’re confused about the answers to these questions, you’re not
alone. Almost no one comes up through a strategy function and Business
Schools teach strategy theory, not practice; therefore, where does one
learn strategy? This is especially critical for the future state CIO.
The good news is that if you knew the above content areas, you would
know more about strategy than all of your senior executive team.