When I began my career as a CIO in 1997, success was defined by the basics: email delivery, network connectivity and application functionality. I personally wrote code, experimented with new operating systems and created novel analytics.
In 2011, CIO success is much more complex.
Infrastructure success can be defined as 99.99% uptime of all systems and no loss, corruption or breach of data. This is very hard to achieve, and the cloud sets expectations that IT infrastructure should be like heat, power, and light -- available when needed, in the amount required.
Application success can be defined as the delivery, on time and on budget, of "go lives" according to project plans. Two important forces make this more complicated. One is the rise of consumer app stores, which set expectations that enterprise software should be easy to find, procure and install. The second is that, as the economy forces downsizing, there's more pressure on the IT department to quickly deliver applications that provide better workflow automation and thus the improvements in efficiency the organization needs when it's scraping by with fewer employees.
This all sounds impossible. Deliver massive infrastructure in an environment of constant change, but keep it entirely reliable and secure. Deliver applications that support business processes in increasingly short time frames with limited resources -- both within the IT department and among the business owners of those processes.
Modern CIOs are not technologists or evangelists for innovation, but customer relationship managers, strategic communicators and project managers, delicately balancing project portfolios, available resources and governance.
Modern CIOs have little time to get infrastructure and applications right. They must think more like CEOs about business needs and future strategies, and they must act more like Wayne Gretzky (who skated not where the puck was, but where it was going to be), to ensure that critical information technology is deployed by the time it is needed.
What am I doing in fiscal 2012 to become a more effective modern CIO? Three things:
1. I'm identifying key business customers and meeting with each one to make sure their priorities are reflected in the current IT operating plan and the five-year IT strategic plan. Working with the governance committees, I will trim the list of priorities to just those projects that have the greatest impact on business strategy, quality and efficiency.
2. I'm standardizing communications so key customers receive monthly updates about their priority projects.
3. I'm defining a process for managing IT projects across the enterprise. It includes standardizing the IT project intake process, the IT project life cycle and project management tools (project documentation, project plans and status reports).
I hope that by focusing on customer relationship management, communication and project management, I will create a positive working environment for the IT staff, with a manageable set of well-defined projects and engaged customers. Doing a few projects swiftly and in greater depth to meet the most critical needs of the business is much harder than agreeing to do many niche projects and moving slowly on all of them.
CIOs should be judged on their ability to manage demand and achieve reasonable levels of customer satisfaction while focusing on a narrower project portfolio and delivering it at a faster pace.
John Halamka is CIO at CareGroup Healthcare System, CIO and associate dean for educational technology at Harvard Medical School, chairman of the New England Health Electronic Data Interchange Network, chairman of the Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel and a practicing emergency physician. You can contact him at email@example.com.