Strategic or Nimble – Which is the Best Approach for Today’s CIO?

Strategic or Nimble – Which is the Best Approach for Today’s CIO?

CIOs are faced with ever-increasing demands to provide business value across a wide range of categories. Cost efficiencies, technological innovation, growth opportunities, and compliance/regulatory requirements are just a few of the significant areas where CIOs must execute effectively and deliver real value.

How then should CIOs position themselves for the greatest probability of success? Should they take an approach based more on planning and strategy or would they be more successful using an adaptive and nimble style of execution? It would be easy to claim a “middle of the road” position, but does that really represent a CIO’s inherent style or approach in providing business value? What if you had to choose one or the other – which would it be and why? If you are not sure, perhaps a closer look at the characteristics of each would be useful.

CIO Strategic

The strategic CIO is characterized by reliance on and adherence to a longer-term, documented action plan designed to provide value through carefully considered approaches based on business needs, and IT resources and capabilities. It’s not unusual for the strategic CIO to maintain a published IT strategy that is updated periodically with input from senior leadership. The strategy directs the approach and deviations are normally discouraged unless there is some urgent need outside the scope of the strategy itself.

Most strategic CIOs I know constantly reference their strategy in decision making and in individual, team, and overall IT performance evaluations. Strategic CIOs find tremendous value in establishing a plan, measuring success, and sticking with it over an extended period of time until a refresh or realignment with the business is needed.

In short, craft the best plan, execute, and stay the course.

CIO Nimble Approach

The nimble CIO is usually more reactive and adaptive than the strategic CIO. A nimble CIO may or may not have a documented IT strategy or approach – and even if they do, they don’t hesitate to change direction depending on the business need at any given time. Quick assessment of a problem or opportunity is a requirement for a nimble CIO and the ability to adapt a successful solution with urgency is the hallmark of value.

Many nimble CIOs feel constrained by a strategic approach and don’t believe it is timely enough to provide the course corrections necessary for adding real business value. This type of CIO relies heavily on highly engaged and talented professionals to closely monitor business needs and respond with urgency and creativity when requested.  Service levels are very important to the nimble CIO.

In short, keep your finger on the pulse of the business, react quickly, and keep things moving forward.

The Best Approach

Is your approach right for your business? If you are a CIO at a small start-up, would it make more sense to be strategic or would it be better to take a more nimble approach? If you are the CIO of a Fortune 100 manufacturing organization would you likely be more successful using a planned, methodical style or would you add more value to your business by reacting quickly and urgently? Does the leadership style of the management team and the culture of the company also factor into the “best approach?”

So, is there a right answer – strategic or nimble? Or, is there a best situational and conditional answer for each individual CIO?

As for me, I am a strategy guy and can’t imagine running a large insurance company IT shop any other way. How about you?

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Todd Coombes

Todd Coombes, Senior Vice President, Chief Information Officer, CNO Financial Group, Inc.

Todd Coombes joined CNO in 2005 and is currently serving as SVP and CIO. Before joining CNO, Coombes was CEO of Health Care Systems Corporation, a software development firm providing SaaS based solutions in the healthcare industry. Prior to... More   View all posts
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