After a passage of bumpy economic turbulence, the next 12 months represent a great opportunity for CIOs to tune up personal and enterprise skills, says Gartner’s John Mahoney.

2010 was undoubtedly the transition year when organisations emerged, bleary-eyed, from their bunkers to try to make sense of the post-recession landscape. It was the year when most businesses returned to making healthy profits, while governments started to accept historic overspending realities.

Although the economic aftershocks look set to continue, the next 12 months will be a period when concrete decisions will be made about the changes needed to structure the post-recession world.

CIOs and the organisations they lead must be fit to support new growth patterns in business and deep changes in government. The next year offers more opportunities and, at the same time, more challenges than we have seen for a while as economies, markets and communities rebuild, renew and retrench.

Post-recession: Post-recession CIOs need to eliminate bad practices, whether they date from the downturn or have gone unrecognised for even longer

CIOs need to eliminate bad practices, whether they date from the downturn or have gone unrecognised for even longer
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With this in mind, Gartner has put forward some key goals for CIOs as they journey through the next 12 months. These are not the main-agenda, top-of-mind issues you’ll find elsewhere in Gartner’s research. Rather, they reveal important but less obvious actions to raise personal and enterprise performance from good to excellent.

We need to focus on getting in shape for the challenges ahead in terms of the organisation, our own personal readiness and future growth, and on eliminating bad practices that may have grown up during the recent difficult times or that may have gone unrecognised and unchallenged for even longer.

These objectives are organised under four key headings.

Ensure organisational fitness to meet your goals

  • Praise the unusual and hire some oddballs During periods of crisis or uncertainty, it’s important to keep people focused on core activities and executing them well. But in the aftermath, organisations must adapt to the changes taking place around them. They need to disrupt the status quo of the organisational culture a little to start making it more dynamic, inquisitive and reforming.
  • Start a quiet conversation about business ethics The recession has already raised major questions about business ethics and a vibrant international conversation continues about the appropriate parameters for issues such as board-member bonuses and government regulatory responsibilities. However, ethics are diffused through the culture of companies, not just in the oaths that individuals might swear. That issue raises a question: what are your business ethics as an IT leader and what are those of the team around you?
  • Spend more time on information strategy and less on technology strategy CIOs are good at assimilating changes brought about by new technology. But what about the changes they could achieve through new access to existing information and by new information itself? CIOs need to promote discussions on what it would take to become an intelligent business.

Ensure personal fitness to do your job

  • Review your tenure and strengthen your personal career goals The next 12 months will be a period of transition for exploring new opportunities. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, what you want and what you have to……offer will prepare you for your next career move, whether it’s in the same company or somewhere else.
  • Travel to the next three country markets your company is likely to depend on for growth before you are told to During the next few years, most large companies will depend more than ever on the fast pace of economic growth in emerging economies. Emerging markets evolve rapidly and as they develop, your business will be reaching out to you to help it enter them and grow.
  • Get yourself and your staff out with your sales teams CIOs need a major change of perspective. They need to get out more and what better way to discover how technology can help drive revenue than to learn what your salespeople go through to get their jobs done? Pair up your direct-reporting team with senior sales or marketing people and find out how IT can provide answers to their problems.

Avoid some bad habits

  • Identify and remove some dead practices The opposite of a best practice is not a worst practice, it’s a dead practice. For example, becoming a service-centric IT department was better than being an unhelpful bottleneck. But today, the practices that helped win a battle may cause people to think of IT as a routine and non-strategic function rather than an active agent for business change. CIOs need to recognise that old and unhelpful practices don’t always fade away gracefully. They need to be actively removed.
  • Stop deploying employees’ technology that needs to be managed At every replacement and upgrade decision, assert preferences that will demand less management and less intervention. Streaming technologies, application stores and self-service portals are examples of approaches that will help you turn current push management into pull processes and hence eliminate that inertia.
  • Stop fighting consumerisation – exploit and govern it Users will be bringing technologies into the workplace whether you want them to or not. Rather than ignore the phenomenon, the smart CIO will recognise it and put in place mechanisms to provide guidance and governance. The key is to direct people in the IT organisation to look for ways to empower users and protect the organisation at the same time.

Make time to get hands-on with trend-leading technologies

Annually, we suggest a shortlist of technologies that we recommend CIOs should make time to see and experience themselves. We create this shortlist because it’s too easy to lose touch with the leading edge and to see the technology landscape through the perhaps imperfect perspectives of others around you.

It’s a constant risk for CIOs to be caught off guard by another business executive who has seen or read about a technology he or she thinks the organisation should adopt and presumes you already know. Most important of all, using new technology is a powerful way to catalyse new ideas and refresh your own thinking.

As we prepare to leave the winter months behind us and head into spring, my personal belief is that CIOs should be looking to achieve at least half of these goals and at least one from each of the main themes. Those who achieve this objective will greatly enhance their personal and organisational capabilities, enabling them to deal with the continuing challenges of the post-recession world over the next 12 months and beyond.

Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst John Mahoney is co-chair at the Gartner CIO Leadership Forum 2011, which takes place on 4-6 April at the Sofitel London Heathrow.