The Journey of a Business Strategist CIO

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Guest Post by Louie Ehrlich, President Chevron Information Technology Company, and CIO, Chevron Corp.

The CIO Executive Council developed the Future State CIO® program in 2007 because we wanted to define the future of the CIO role, rather than letting the future define us as CIOs. We’ve seen a lot of progress and believe that now is the time to help CIOs focus on the journey we must travel to deliver the greatest value to our businesses as defined in the Future-State CIO Journey model-that of business strategist.

What’s the CIO’s world look like at that highest level? Most of our focus is external, on the market and our company’s customers. Our teams are business-oriented. We are true business peers in our relationships with other stakeholders. The most critical competencies we are applying pertain to market knowledge and external customer insight. The value that IT is creating at this level is competitive advantage, innovation, and better decisions, enabled through the application of rich business intelligence.

The journey towards the role of business strategist will be different for every CIO. I have been fortunate. I work for a great company and part of my journey included time in Chevron’s Downstream business, where the chief executive for this business gave me the role of vice president of strategy-business strategy-along with my CIO role. By definition the expectation of “business strategist” became very clear. That was tremendously valuable to me, and very challenging. Expectations were very clear that I needed to succeed in both roles. But it was also clear what lay ahead was a journey. Hopefully, my journey can offer some insights into what other CIOs might expect as their roles progress to include that of business strategist.

I learned, for example, that to reach the business strategist stage of the journey, you’ve got to take an active role in defining and taking the journey—i.e. be deliberate. Your focus needs to become more external, making sure you understand the outside world and the business that you’re in. Of course, there are basic things you can do, like get an MBA and take courses in leadership and strategy. But for me, of paramount importance was learning everything I could about the business.

For example, back in the 2000, when I got the title of CIO for our global marketing business, I really didn’t know much about that side of the business. I’d been involved in our Upstream segment for 19 years before I got that job. I was very fortunate that the head of the marketing business understood what I needed to do to succeed. When I asked to spend time shadowing individuals across the business he helped me identify key people to shadow so I could learn about their challenges and aspirations at the ground level.

I literally spent time on the trading floor and visited with tanker truck drivers. I went to our service stations and learned what they were doing. I spent time at a few fuel terminals; I listened in at our credit card call center. And I did that off and on for my entire first year. No one in the business turned me down when I asked if I could learn from them. In fact, everyone was more than happy to tell me what they did, what worked, what didn’t. Chevron has a great and collaborative culture, but I don’t think it is overly unique in that way. So my advice is to go out and shadow others in your business, get first-hand experience, walk a mile in their shoes so to speak. It helped me to learn about the business, and even more importantly, it helped to create long lasting personal relationships that are so very important to the success of any business.

No CIO can make the journey alone. This is a journey that the full IT Function, along with the business itself, must take together. That’s why the second critical step towards becoming a business strategist CIO is to develop business expertise in your staff. You need an IT organization that is business focused. We do this in several ways at Chevron. For example, in each business segment we’ve got a CIO, a business unit CIO, or an IT leader who sits on the business leadership team. We utilize personnel development committees for moving IT professionals in and out of the business. There is a shared expectation between me and the business leaders that the IT person on their leadership teams is a peer on that team. They are there to help drive business success.

The third step is to elevate the stakeholder relationship from one of service provider or IT partner to true business peer. I’ll share some thoughts on that in my next blog, Closing the Expectations Gap.

Louie Ehrlich, President, Chevron Information Technology Company, and CIO, Chevron Corp. Ehrlich is an advisory board member of the CIO Executive Council and one of the architects of the Council’s Future-State CIO Journey Framework.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by AlicePopkorn

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