Why CIOs Need To Be Storytellers

Mike Clifton, chief information and digital officer at Alorica, says today’s CIOs need to be able to sell technology internally and externally: “It’s as much a part of the job as it is to ensure that the IT infrastructure you have in place is operating well.”
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What does a modern CIO look like? Mike Clifton, whose very title—a combination of chief information and digital officer at Irvine, California-based customer experience provider Alorica—argues the position has changed.

Today, information chiefs need to be able to rally the company around a tech-assisted vision, and help clients understand what the company is capable of. Clifton spoke with StrategicCIO360 about how to stay current, why companies are like puzzles and why IT can no longer be isolated from the rest of the business.

The CIO role is often a misunderstood one. Considering how the position has evolved over the past three decades, how would you clearly and succinctly describe the position and responsibilities of today’s modern CIO? How have these dynamics changed in recent years? What are—or should be—a CIO’s primary area of focus now?

Today, the market demands facing our businesses are more complex than in prior years. The ways in which businesses sell, service and deliver are now integrated into multi-channel, customer-centric outcomes. The transforming CIO role is focused more on orchestrating the art of the possible within the defined technical stack. But the future of this role will center around bridging what could be if investments into digital platforms were well coordinated.

In my combined role as chief information and digital officer, I develop, strategize and deliver next-gen solutions to support these outcomes. Building the technology ecosystem to drive data strategy and ensuring the right products are operationally cost effective and efficiently configured is critical to accelerating our digital offerings and enabling a go-to-market strategy.

We all know information technology is constantly changing. What strategies should CIOs adopt to stay abreast of current IT advancements and innovations? What are the best ways to objectively assess the relevancy of these developments to one’s own organization?

There really isn’t one single method to stay current. In my experience, the highest value has come from spending time with business stakeholders to understand client trends and map market investments or platform capabilities to advance our portfolio. I recommend thinking of your company as a puzzle with pieces that connect to provide solutions for your customers. It’s crucial to have an internal capability to capture innovation that aligns bottom-up needs, which then transforms into key areas for investigating technical capabilities.

What are the most important skills and capabilities that today’s CIO needs to be as successful? How and why are these so essential to the position? How did you acquire them during your career arc?

No single leader or department can achieve optimal results alone. To deliver outcomes efficiently and at scale, teams need to work collaboratively; various stakeholders bring different viewpoints that help solve for a need most effectively. I learned this through listening to each of the leaders for perspective and encouraging them to take risk and accountability. The difference in taking planned risks and reinforcing that it’s ok to fail but learn from it and take the next opportunity is showing that learning applied.

Being able to sell the potential of new technologies is key. It’s about distilling the highly technical aspects into a compelling story about solutions that deliver outcomes. In my current role as chief digital officer (in addition to CIO) and in my prior executive IT positions, you have to sell internally/externally—it’s as much a part of the job as it is to ensure that the IT infrastructure you have in place is operating well.

Ensure your team sees firsthand your ability to influence and drive strategy. That allows them to better understand the role the team plays, and it empowers them to do the same with stakeholders. Leadership may be an innate quality but it’s also a skill you continue to hone through time and practice. Throughout my career, I’ve just continued to stay engaged with the business, my teams and clients both internal and external. The better I know the pulse of my stakeholders, the better I can lead.

Make the connection between technology and enabling business outcomes, offering optionality to cost and outcomes. I was able to do this by earning a seat at the table early on, allowing me to better understand and interpret future needs, which then led to coming up with the digital solutions that fit.

Many CIOs are constantly wringing their hands and losing sleep at night over cybersecurity concerns, which can cripple a corporation. What steps are you and your team taking to improve your company’s IT security protocols and comprehensively safeguard corporate data?

At Alorica, we handle more than two billion customer interactions a year on behalf of some of the most well-known brands in the world. As such, data security is a top priority. Part of our proactive and comprehensive strategy includes collaborating with third-party experts in all domains, constantly testing our technologies and consistently educating our people at every level. We also continue to operationally mature processes to keep pace with the rapid changes occurring daily in this environment.

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