Q: There are a lot of good CIOs out there, but what defines the ones who truly stand out?
A: Super CIOs are moving beyond business-IT alignment into agenda setting. Business-IT alignment presupposes that as an IT organization you are in a follower role you figure out what the business wants to do and structure activities in reaction to that. When you set the agenda you are leading the business. Instead of coming to IT steering commitee meetings to figure out how to react, you come with the express intent of setting the senior executive teams agenda at the company and leading them through the changes that are going to benefit the company.
Q: There arent a lot of organizations where the CIO has that kind of clout, though. What does IT leadership need to do to demonstrate that it can take charge at that level?
A: There is the equivalent of Maslovs Hierarchy of Needs in the IT department. At the bottom is all the operational and infrastructure stuff organizations are organized around applications and O and I (operations and infrastructure). If those things at the bottom are not working, no one is going to be interested in talking with you about how to align with the business. You are in immediate and direct pain.
Our advice is to pay attention to this hierarchy and make sure the proper level of infrastructure and expertise is there to nail this stuff on the lower levels, so you can spend your time on the upper levels. If you try to do the upper level stuff first, you wont succeed.
CIOs read a lot about worrying about the upper level stuff ,since thats where the interesting and strategic things happen. The bottom-level stuff tends to be more of technical skill set vs. the management skill set at the top level. But this is where your ability to hire the right people and team is paramount if you get them in place, they will make bottom stuff work well so you can spend your time at the top.