Ginna Raahauge may be relatively new to Riverbed, but she draws on decades of business and IT experience to reinvent what it means to be at the tech helm. In a recent interview, she explains how to finally put the IT/business alignment debate to rest.
If recent reports are anything to go by, you’d think that CIOs are an endangered bunch. CMOs, CFOs, and even CDOs (chief digital officers) are increasingly encroaching on CIO turf. But for tech leaders on the move like Raahauge, recognizing that the game has changed and adapting accordingly makes the role more important than ever.
A seat at the leadership table
Raahauge reports directly to her CFO, an arrangement that is increasingly common. The Wall Street Journal/Deloitte Insights recently reported that 46% of large-company CIOs do the same. And that comes with new job requirements and heightened expectations, so above all else CIOs must be adept at adapting to change.
Dispelling the image of the embattled CIO trying to resist outside progress, Raahauge sees this shift as an exciting opportunity. "For years, CIOs have wondered ‘How do I get a seat at the executive table?'" she says. "Now, increasingly, we have it."
CIOs must earn the respect of executives and show that they have a strategic viewpoint. "Once you get there," says Raahauge, "it’s about being a contributor in a very collaborative way. Whether it’s feeding use cases, or asking ‘Can we have a strategic conversation about some trends I’m seeing? I’d like your thoughts on it.’ Or just ask to do some joint architecture. Start the dialogue that way."
It’s important to be a collaborator rather than a know-it-all. "Where I’ve seen people fail is where they’ve tried to come off as the expert all the time, saying things like, ‘You guys should be taking your direction from me.’ These CIOs try to push themselves in there unnaturally. That’s obviously never going to work, but I still see a lot of people do that."
Do you speak business?
Keeping the IT lights on is only the beginning of this "next generation" CIO’s responsibilities. They must also reorganize IT to provide the tools and services the other c-suite business leaders require to meet their financial goals.
Raahauge firmly believes in this new business-oriented CIO. "You will be more successful if you’re heavier on the business than the tech," she says. "The technologist needs to be there, but at a lower percentage — let’s say 60/40% or even 70/30% — because a CIO is usually going to have a very strong technologist in their IT-infrastructure and enterprise-architecture roles."
She sees this next-generation CIO’s tenure growing from the traditional three to four years to five to seven years because they’re playing a more integral business-strategy role.
"You need business acumen. You have to understand how to translate ‘this business problem can be solved this way’ or ‘I can drive my application footprint or my enterprise architecture a different way that actually solves a real business problem and drives more revenue.’ I think you earn and keep those all-important strategic inputs when you’re actually helping design new business models."
If you’re more of a classic CIO looking to adapt, Raahauge recommends finding a mentor to guide your journey. "I’m a big fan of mentoring, but you need a business mentor, not a technology mentor. Can you translate IT ideas to relate them to business value? Or are you always speaking in techno language? Is it even close to business language? If you can’t translate complex ideas into business language, it’ll be a really hard transformation."
Control is an illusion
Another key trait of the next-generation CIO is flexibility. Are you able to embrace change — perhaps even get excited by it — or do you naturally shy away from it?
Traditional CIOs seem stuck in an old-fashioned role of controlling and governing, which falls apart when faced with unstoppable trends such as BYOD (bring your own device) and BYOC (bring your own cloud). Users are adopting technologies that make sense to them personally rather than sticking to IT-mandated solutions. Shadow IT is the new normal, and clinging to an illusion of IT-mandated control is a fast track to CIO irrelevance.
According to Raahauge, "You have to be like a cat that lands on its feet because you’re constantly being thrown in the air. And if you’re not comfortable with situational ambiguity, your lifespan as a CIO will be 2–3 years."
This doesn’t mean external technologies should be adopted without thought to consequence, of course. "I’m still conscious of the traditional architecture where I know we have to scale. Whether it’s a consumer bringing something in from sales, or someone in engineering saying, ‘We really want to embrace this.’ If the way it’s designed or being deployed today is not going to scale, how do we embrace the concept of the technology and make it scale at the same time?
"That’s where I think you see more collaboration in next-generation CIOs as opposed to past generations who usually achieved resiliency and achieved their innovation through more control. We’ve had to figure out we’re not in control anymore."
Raahauge enjoys the unique challenges and opportunities that await today’s CIOs. She’s happy to have a seat at the executive table, which gives her the opportunity to make a real impact on the Riverbed bottom line.
"In my interview process," Raahauge says, "[Riverbed CTO] Dave Wu told me that he just needed someone to partner with.’” She pauses a moment for effect. “He had me right then."
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