CXO

10 bad habits CIOs must break if they want to see digital transformation success

These pitfalls can harm a CIO's value within their organization, keeping them from ultimately achieving their goals.

The role of the CIO continues to evolve, as digital transformation efforts require more work with the business to use technology to reach goals. But to be most effective, CIOs need to break certain bad habits that they may have picked up over the years.

"Some habits are potentially shared by executives of all kinds: Micromanaging, inability to delegate responsibilities, lack of proper communication with the drones in the hive, and a conceded disregard of policies they themselves helped to set and implement," said Nate Masterson, IT director for Maple Holistics. "But when it comes to IT, there is an even greater threat. A lazy or half-assed CIO can be the downfall of the entire company."

SEE: IT leader's guide to achieving digital transformation (Tech Pro Research)

Here are 10 bad habits that CIOs should work to avoid in 2018 and beyond.

1. Spending all of your time putting out fires

A CIO won't have time to make high-level decisions if they are constantly dealing with small problems and the day-to-day management of their teams, Masterson said. Instead, you should leave that to lower and middle management, and the IT team itself.

"You hired these people for a reason—let them do their jobs," said Scott Youngs, CIO of Key Information Systems. "I don't mean that you should just head to the golf course and blindly allow projects to go their merry way, but stick to general leadership/course correction and provide the goals you want to achieve and let your people get you there."

2. Failing to invest in training

Training is often the first thing cut when budgets get tight, though it's one of the most important things a CIO can provide for their team to increase expertise and personal growth and job satisfaction, Youngs said.

A failure to pursue your own technical training is also a bad habit to break. "While people management skills and general business skills are vitally important to a CIO, understanding the new hotness is also important," Youngs said. "Whether it's when you're in front of a client, or one of your engineers wants to discuss the potential infusion of a specific technology into the organization, you need to know what the heck they're talking about."

3. Ignoring business goals

Failing to align IT initiatives with business goals is unacceptable in today's climate, said Jarod Greene, vice president of service management strategy for Cherwell Software. "Every project is a business project and too often CIOs fail to articulate the business value of their initiatives," Greene said. "No matter how mundane or trivial the effort may seem, if CIOs can't show how it creates or protects value, then their business won't either."

IT also needs to understand that lines of business and other sectors now have tech embedded in them, said management consultant Bruno Collet. "IT has to own the governance of IT and become a trusted advisor of other sectors, and not prevent them from using technologies," Collet added.

This means CIOs should be business-embedded, not just business-aligned, said Kelly Ahuja, president and CEO of Versa Networks. "Cloud and IoT break the boundaries between technology and business," Ahuja said. "IT needs to be at the table."

SEE: Research: The CIO as business catalyst - Role, relevance and value (Tech Pro Research)

4. Not taking security seriously

Treating security as "important" but not a "priority" will eventually lead to a breach or other cyber incident, said Mike Kail, CTO at CYBRIC.

Sometimes a fear of adding security leadership is the issue. "Many companies are still not taking security seriously, and holding the company back from hiring a CISO because they don't want to give up that control," said Blake Angove, director of technology recruiting services at staffing firm LaSalle Network.

CIOs and other executives need to act as role models in cybersecurity, rather than treating it as a burden, to make security part of the company's culture, said Greg Mooney, IT evangelist at Ipswitch.

5. Only shopping large, well-known vendors

When it comes to choosing vendors, don't only compare and shop prices with large, well-known brands, Angove said. "Consider startup vendors too, because in addition to more competitive pricing, they'll also look at your organization differently than the larger companies would view an issue," Angove added.

6. Not watching for vendor lock-in

CIOs often start seeking a vendor with good intentions, requiring multiple bids and transition planning, said Andrew Howard, CTO of Kudelski Security. However, "Before the manager knows it, a few change orders happen, the vendor offers really low pricing for new work, and suddenly the vendor is irreplaceable, has significant leverage with key IT assets and tremendous pricing control," Howard said. "I have seen several IT managers lose their jobs over this type of vendor mismanagement."

CIOs and their IT managers should always be on the lookout for vendor lock-in scenarios, and work to avoid them, Howard added.

7. Failing to spend time with staff-level employees

CIOs should spend some time working alongside staff-level engineers and developers to gain a better understanding of the problems they face day to day, and how to solve them on a larger scale, Angove said.

"It's easy to stay focused on your direct reports, but when all heck breaks loose, having more than a passing relationship with the people on the front line is vital to success," Youngs said. "It can be a challenge in larger organizations, but at least making the effort will pay off."

SEE: CIO toolkit: A presentation for teaching business leaders about the impact of change requests (Tech Pro Research)

8. Turning a blind eye to siloes

Spearheading digital transformation projects such as shifting to the cloud can result in organizational and technical siloes, said Prakash Nagal, vice president at Infoblox. Instead of allowing the groups that own these disparate initiatives to operate in silos, CIOs should ensure they're working with other IT leaders under a common management infrastructure, Nagal said.

"Enacting digital change across an entire organization requires a leader capable of engaging all departments," said Elliott Hultgren, CIO of the City of Fishers, an Indianapolis suburb. "The ability to see the entire forest without getting hung up on each individual tree is essential to getting the job done. This perspective lends itself to an operational, rather than technological approach."

9. Relying on legacy technology

Some 90% of digital projects fail to meet expectations and deliver only incremental improvements, according to research from Couchbase. Part of the reason for this is reliance on legacy technologies, said CEO Matt Cain.

"CIOs need to stop relying on legacy technology, and focus their resources on selecting the right underlying database technology that can leverage dynamic data to its full potential across any platform," Cain said.

10. Falling into shiny new toy syndrome

With so many new technologies coming across a CIO's inbox every day, it can be easy to spend too much time and energy exploring possibilities in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, said Joshua Peskay, vice president of technology strategy at RoundTable Technology.

Doing this prevents other high-priority IT initiatives from getting done, Peskay said. "An example might be spending a lot of time looking at AI cybersecurity solutions that are not ready for primetime while you still haven't implemented basic cybersecurity measures such as two-factor authentication, password managers or even awareness training," he added.

While CIOs need to keep abreast of new technologies and always be looking for opportunities to leverage them in their business, it's key not to get distracted by every new tool that may not yet be applicable to their organization, Peskay said.

"Great CIOs will set conditions for themselves to successfully focus on the IT priorities of the business while also allowing for a thoughtful analysis of whether and how new technologies can be applied to those priorities," he added.

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Image: iStockphoto/zhuyufang

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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