Business

8 characteristics of a successful public sector CIO

By: Duncan Farley, Head of Business Transformation, Ancoris
Published: Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - 09:00 GMT Jump to Comments

72% in the public sector say the use of cloud technology could benefit their organisation yet only 3% identified their CIO as the individual driving this transformation - should public sector CIOs be doing more?

The CIO (Chief Information Officer) job title has grown in popularity over the last decade. We are now firmly in the information age, and this presents the public sector with both opportunity and challenge. Many organisations are using this shift to replace traditional Heads of IT in favour of business focussed CIOs - arguably one of the most important roles in the public sector today. However, with only 3% of CIOs being recognised as driving transformation, should organisations be doing more to empower CIOs?

Recent austerity measures handed down by central government highlight the necessity for the public sector to transform. There are many opportunities to do so, but perhaps none more significant than harnessing the power of technology as a key enabler. Outgoing Executive Director of Digital in the Cabinet Office, Mike Bracken, recently said: "There is a salient lesson for every institution in every sector, which is this: the internet always wins. Government is no different. We ignore that at our peril”.

72% of public sector heads of department already believe that the adoption of cloud services is fundamental to transforming service delivery, yet many organisations are failing to fully embrace this technology. Effective leadership is key, so what are the characteristics of a  successful public sector CIO?

Stop being a Head of IT

Technology is the easy bit, so do not make that your sole focus. Your ultimate aim is to work hand-in-hand with your organisation to embed and not just deploy new technology. This means spending as much time focusing on people and processes as on technology.

Experienced public and private sector CIO Steve Day says: “Today’s IT leaders need to approach work very differently from how they did 10 years ago. It’s now paramount for every IT change to have a people, process and technology element. Furthermore IT leaders need to inspire those around them, be visible and get out from behind their desk; if you don’t have the respect and support from your CEO, Directors, the political parties and Cabinet members, and proper engagement with the users, even the best ideas will fail.”

Motivate and inspire

No one wants to hear your twelve point plan that's taken months to get approved. Be clear about your vision, describe the destination in a way that brings it to life, excite the organisation about the opportunities that await them and encourage them to follow your lead through a period of change.

When JFK said they would put a man on the moon, he added: “We don’t know how to do this yet, but we’re going to do it anyway”. Such a bold statement sends chills down everyone’s spine; because if that happens, what couldn’t they do?

Focus on outcome thinking

Beliefs can both limit and enable. Surround yourself with a positive team that shares your vision of the destination and focuses on what can be done rather than what can’t. Henry Ford once said “The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can't are both right. Which one are you?”

There are many scientific studies that support the theory of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In essence, your perception and belief can directly influence a desired outcome. As a CIO and public sector leader, it’s important you believe in what you are delivering. If you don’t believe it yourself, how can you expect others to follow you?

Present yourself with impact

When you walk into the room, does the room fall quiet in anticipation? When you speak, do people stop and listen? Great public sector CIOs position themselves as leaders. They articulate complex technical conundrums in plain english, connect with people, build rapport effortlessly and leave a room having convinced even their biggest sceptics.

Realising your potential is not just psychological, but physical as well. For anyone who hasn’t seen the TED talk by Amy Cuddy showing how body language changes who we become, I highly recommend it.

Navigate the political landscape

Anyone with significant public sector experience can recount tales of red tape and bureaucracy that stall progress. However, knowing how to successfully work with politicians makes you worth your weight in gold.

Chris Bally, Assistant Chief Executive and CIO at Suffolk County Council, says “Working in a political environment can be challenging and rewarding in equal measure. Politicians vary from one end of the spectrum to the other in terms of their views on and use of technology and you have to be able to articulate the benefits clearly in political and organisational terms. It is important to recognise that politicians are a very discreet set of “users” and understanding this and supporting them to make sure IT helps their style of working is essential to creating advocates for good technology amongst your councillors”.

A 21st century public sector leader must therefore demonstrate an understanding of the role of politicians and establish themselves as someone who can support them to fulfil their council and community leadership roles.

The CIO (Chief Information Officer) job title has grown in popularity over the last decade. We are now firmly in the information age, and this presents the public sector with both opportunity and challenge. Many organisations are using this shift to replace traditional Heads of IT in favour of business focussed CIOs - arguably one of the most important roles in the public sector today. However, with only 3% of CIOs being recognised as driving transformation, should organisations be doing more to empower CIOs?

Recent austerity measures handed down by central government highlight the necessity for the public sector to transform. There are many opportunities to do so, but perhaps none more significant than harnessing the power of technology as a key enabler. Outgoing Executive Director of Digital in the Cabinet Office, Mike Bracken, recently said: "There is a salient lesson for every institution in every sector, which is this: the internet always wins. Government is no different. We ignore that at our peril”.

72% of public sector heads of department already believe that the adoption of cloud services is fundamental to transforming service delivery, yet many organisations are failing to fully embrace this technology. Effective leadership is key, so what are the characteristics of a  successful public sector CIO?

Stop being a Head of IT

Technology is the easy bit, so do not make that your sole focus. Your ultimate aim is to work hand-in-hand with your organisation to embed and not just deploy new technology. This means spending as much time focusing on people and processes as on technology.

Experienced public and private sector CIO Steve Day says: “Today’s IT leaders need to approach work very differently from how they did 10 years ago. It’s now paramount for every IT change to have a people, process and technology element. Furthermore IT leaders need to inspire those around them, be visible and get out from behind their desk; if you don’t have the respect and support from your CEO, Directors, the political parties and Cabinet members, and proper engagement with the users, even the best ideas will fail.”

Motivate and inspire

No one wants to hear your twelve point plan that's taken months to get approved. Be clear about your vision, describe the destination in a way that brings it to life, excite the organisation about the opportunities that await them and encourage them to follow your lead through a period of change.

When JFK said they would put a man on the moon, he added: “We don’t know how to do this yet, but we’re going to do it anyway”. Such a bold statement sends chills down everyone’s spine; because if that happens, what couldn’t they do?

Focus on outcome thinking

Beliefs can both limit and enable. Surround yourself with a positive team that shares your vision of the destination and focuses on what can be done rather than what can’t. Henry Ford once said “The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can't are both right. Which one are you?”

There are many scientific studies that support the theory of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In essence, your perception and belief can directly influence a desired outcome. As a CIO and public sector leader, it’s important you believe in what you are delivering. If you don’t believe it yourself, how can you expect others to follow you?

Present yourself with impact

When you walk into the room, does the room fall quiet in anticipation? When you speak, do people stop and listen? Great public sector CIOs position themselves as leaders. They articulate complex technical conundrums in plain english, connect with people, build rapport effortlessly and leave a room having convinced even their biggest sceptics.

Realising your potential is not just psychological, but physical as well. For anyone who hasn’t seen the TED talk by Amy Cuddy showing how body language changes who we become, I highly recommend it.

Navigate the political landscape

Anyone with significant public sector experience can recount tales of red tape and bureaucracy that stall progress. However, knowing how to successfully work with politicians makes you worth your weight in gold.

Chris Bally, Assistant Chief Executive and CIO at Suffolk County Council, says “Working in a political environment can be challenging and rewarding in equal measure. Politicians vary from one end of the spectrum to the other in terms of their views on and use of technology and you have to be able to articulate the benefits clearly in political and organisational terms. It is important to recognise that politicians are a very discreet set of “users” and understanding this and supporting them to make sure IT helps their style of working is essential to creating advocates for good technology amongst your councillors”.

A 21st century public sector leader must therefore demonstrate an understanding of the role of politicians and establish themselves as someone who can support them to fulfil their council and community leadership roles.

Deliver on promises

In Star Wars, Yoda famously said “do or do not, there is no try”. To try means that failure becomes a realistic option. It doesn’t take long to gain a reputation as someone who fails to deliver, but when the opposite is true the momentum gained is invaluable.

IT is often considered an enabling service, so the goal is always to deliver:

change that enables benefits previously not attainable
something different to achieve improved results
change that makes problems and pain points obsolete
Almost every IT business case should incorporate the above points and should provide ‘invest to save’ opportunities. The inspirational public sector CIOs know and deliver against this criteria every time - this isn’t just important, it’s a necessity. A successful outcome ultimately results in increased funding and support for your next project.

Empower those around you

A conductor with a disengaged orchestra doesn’t produce very good music. Research suggests that when people are happy they perform better; staff using next-generation tools are 20% more satisfied on their job,  31% more productive and 33% more helpful to colleagues.

Strong public sector CIOs empower those around them to deliver solutions based on a vision. We are all tempted to micromanage from time to time, but you will never find great CIOs and leaders clogging up their diary with micromanagement activities.

Launch, then keep listening

The fear of failure is one the biggest hurdles to overcome. In the public sector there is also an increased pressure, both politically and from the media, as everyone looks to avoid the headline “Council wastes taxpayers money on failed project”.

A bold public sector CIO needs to acknowledge yet embrace this fear. Better to fail fast than fail slowly. If you knowingly release something in beta, then you’re acknowledging the solution is not yet perfect. This gives you the opportunity to gather user feedback and keep improving the solution over time; more often than not, this will lead to a more positive outcome.

The current environment requires public sector CIOs to lead. The fact that just 3% in the public sector recognise their CIOs as a driver of transformation is concerning, but it also provides an opportunity. In times of change, these business focused innovators can embrace their role and redefine the CIO position as the leader of transformation - not just a supporter.

In Star Wars, Yoda famously said “do or do not, there is no try”. To try means that failure becomes a realistic option. It doesn’t take long to gain a reputation as someone who fails to deliver, but when the opposite is true the momentum gained is invaluable.

IT is often considered an enabling service, so the goal is always to deliver:

change that enables benefits previously not attainable
something different to achieve improved results
change that makes problems and pain points obsolete
Almost every IT business case should incorporate the above points and should provide ‘invest to save’ opportunities. The inspirational public sector CIOs know and deliver against this criteria every time - this isn’t just important, it’s a necessity. A successful outcome ultimately results in increased funding and support for your next project.

Empower those around you

A conductor with a disengaged orchestra doesn’t produce very good music. Research suggests that when people are happy they perform better; staff using next-generation tools are 20% more satisfied on their job,  31% more productive and 33% more helpful to colleagues.

Strong public sector CIOs empower those around them to deliver solutions based on a vision. We are all tempted to micromanage from time to time, but you will never find great CIOs and leaders clogging up their diary with micromanagement activities.

Launch, then keep listening

The fear of failure is one the biggest hurdles to overcome. In the public sector there is also an increased pressure, both politically and from the media, as everyone looks to avoid the headline “Council wastes taxpayers money on failed project”.

A bold public sector CIO needs to acknowledge yet embrace this fear. Better to fail fast than fail slowly. If you knowingly release something in beta, then you’re acknowledging the solution is not yet perfect. This gives you the opportunity to gather user feedback and keep improving the solution over time; more often than not, this will lead to a more positive outcome.

The current environment requires public sector CIOs to lead. The fact that just 3% in the public sector recognise their CIOs as a driver of transformation is concerning, but it also provides an opportunity. In times of change, these business focused innovators can embrace their role and redefine the CIO position as the leader of transformation - not just a supporter.

This article was first published on Public Service Digital.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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