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3 steps new CIOs need to take as soon as they start so they can juggle IT work and the shift to digital tools without headaches

Published by Business Insider on Fri, 21 Feb 2020


Executives are eager to pursue artificial intelligence and other new digital tools, but many businesses aren't able to immediately adopt the advanced tech.Instead, chief information officers are increasingly tasked with managing the less high-profile work that serves as the foundation for more sweeping tech overhauls.Among the skills needed to manage living in "those two worlds" is strong communication, according to Ellie Mae CIO Linh Lam.Click here for more BI Prime stories.Sign up here to receive updates on all things Innovation Inc.Artificial intelligence is one of the hottest topics in the C-suite, but many businesses aren't in a position to immediately use the advanced technology to gain a competitive advantage or reduce operational costs.That means chief information officers are often tasked with managing the less-buzzy tasks that are critical to eventually harnessing the power of AI, like developing a cloud plan or ensuring that all the stored data is structured properly.When B.J. Moore came onboard as Providence St. Joseph Health's CIO in 2019, for example, he pivoted the healthcare provider from a strategy of launching new physical data centers to moving the information to the cloud. At Hologica medical device firm specializing in women's healthCIO Trish Torizzo is spearheading an effort to standardize its tech platforms under an Oracle system.And at Ellie Mae, CIO Linh Lam has been spending the first months on the job making sure the backend systems and stored data are up to speed. Such a step is necessary to eventually move forward on plans to, among other things, provide more self-service tools for its clientsofferings the mortgage-application processor is hoping will reduce customer-support costs."I have to live in those two worlds," she told Business Insider. "If I only lived in one world or the other, it's gonna fall short."Managing both tasks is what makes the revamped CIO role so demanding. Lam says her job was made easier because the CEO, chief financial officer, and other leaders are all aligned on the strategy and what is needed from a tech standpoint to support the overall vision for Ellie Mae.The tech plan "has to be a solid line into what our overall goals of where we need to go are," she said.Lamwho ascended to the role of CIO in October 2019after serving as Ellie Mae's head of information technologyoutlined the steps other tech leaders should take to manage both the foundational work and the efforts to pursue more advanced tech.'We are here to support the business'CIOs must have a strong grasp of the technology they are managing. But apart from that, Lam says a key part of managing the new demands of the role is strong communication skills."I can engineer and build anything I want and I will think that it's the best thing in the world. But if it's not utilized, if it doesn't meet the objective or the goals that were set for it, it doesn't matter. It's not a success," she said. "We are here to support the business and operations. And that's really how we grade and score ourselves."It's a requirement not just for tech leaders, but throughout their department. And CIOs are using different routes to develop those skills. At software firm Autodesk, for example, information chief Prakash Kota employs Amazon's "working backward" approach, which requires engineers to write a final press release for a product before building it.Lam relies on analysts that straddle her team and the other business sectors to act as a conduit between the two groups. "They can help with the interpretation of the business objectives and [create] requirements for what we need from a functional and technical standpoint," she said.Alongside the analysts, Lam also has IT business partners who help coordinate the strategies of business units like legal, human resources, finance, and sales with the work the engineers are doing."They really help with a lot of that interpretation, roadmapping, alignment, and then bringing our core engineers along the way to understand that and translate it more into what we need to do technically," she said.Review organizational chartsMany CIOs are also finding themselves in the position of change-agent-and-chief as they lead teams through major cultural overhauls that accompany the pivot toward AI and other advanced tech.One aspect of Ellie Mae's shift that Lam took ownership of was reviewing positions across the enterprise to make sure the company wasn't missing any key roles. While perhaps an uncommon task for most CIOs, the holistic view of the business that many tech leaders now have allows them to see gaps that otherwise may go unnoticed.Lam found out, for example, that some customers were frustrated over the time it took Ellie Mae to deliver items. That led the firm to create a new operational readiness team."When you don't think about operations end to end, it's like this hot potato that's thrown," she said. "No one's really threading it together."Setting achievable metricsLike any project, figuring out how to monitor results and mapping out the success factors is a critical step before launching the initiative.At Ellie Mae, for example, the goal for Lam is to revamp the backend operations to save money that could then be used to support additional growth. For her, success means reducing the amount of time it took to get a quote to customers or accelerating the development of new products.But outside of the more concrete metrics, Lam is also focused on making it easier for teams across the enterprise to handle more volume with the same amount of people (or even less).While each organization will be different, the challenges facing Lam at Ellie Mae are increasingly common across corporate America. And these three steps can serve as a common set of guidelines for many new CIOs.SEE ALSO:Here are 9 resources aspiring female tech leaders need to take advantage of right now to land a job as CIO and close the staggering gender gap in the C-suiteJoin the conversation about this storyNOW WATCH: Taylor Swift is the world's highest-paid celebrity. Here's how she makes and spends her $360 million.
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