Steve Stone admits he’s still trying to figure out exactly what it means to be CIO in residence at Mulesoft.
“I think that means you get the title but none of the benefits or pay,” he joked to an audience of his peers at CIO Peer Forum, an annual gathering of IT leaders in Toronto produced by the CIO Association of Canada.
As the former CIO of major retailers such as Lowe’s and L Brands, however — and as the author of Digitally Deaf: Why Organizations Struggle With Digital Transformation — Stone’s role makes a lot sense. San Francisco-based Mulesoft, for example, provides software that helps organizations integrate various applications, data and devices. This is a key area where IT leaders are called upon (but struggle) to help their counterparts in marketing and sales make use of the technologies available to them.
As CIO in Residence, Stone suggested much of his time is now spent at industry events acting as a voice of the customer for Mulesoft’s target market, as well as a mentor of sorts to those who are now facing challenges he overcame.
“I remember I once left a board meeting and was perturbed — though there are probably other words I could use. I got back and slammed fist to the table and said ‘Damn, they just don’t get it,” Stone recalled in reference to early digital transformation efforts at one of his previous employers. “I don’t blame them, I don’t blame the board — the average age of a board member of the top 50 companies in the U.S. is over 60. IT was different than when they were running those industries.”
Stone isn’t the only one lashing out at a hard surface. Irving Tyler, research vice-president with Gartner, Inc., who spoke earlier at the CIO Peer Forum, said only 15 per cent of firms are achieving their goal of optimizing their business around digital technologies. Even fewer, 11 per cent, are achieving a true digital transformation.
Tyler suggested modern-day CIOs need to strike a balance between enabling the shift to digital businesses in some cases, and actually driving results. This involves not only designing the way such technologies are used but helping to scout for the right talent and helping other senior execs understand what “digital leadership” means.
“The existing operating models of non-digital businesses do not work when you digitilize your business,” he said. “There’s a different culture, methods of decision-making and techniques to form people into teams to work together cohesively.”
Over the course of his career, Stone said he and the teams he managed used three guiding principles to develop IT departments into the trusted advisors they need to be to functions like marketing and sales. He continues to urge them on other IT leaders in his role as CIO in Residence today.
This begins with ensuring the business unit in question owns the outcomes of any technology project. Next, differentiate between what’s mandatory in terms of an outcome and what’s not.
“We all know what happens: before you know it, everything’s a priority,” he said. “Let’s agree to what are the non-negotiables.”
Finally, Stone suggested IT and business functions agree on how often they’ll review those priorities, given how quickly things in the enterprise can change.
“You’re going to course-correct, and you need the cadence for doing that,” he said. “The age of two or three-year projects is dead.”
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