Entrepreneurs can learn a few things from chief information officers, and vice versa. Here’s why

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some IT executives that wanted to punch the likes of Mark Zuckerberg in the face.

Besides the fact that these young punks become multi-billionaires without a lot of education or experience, the startups they launch are becoming the examples of what nimble, adaptive, technology-driven companies are supposed to look like. There are several well-established firms now which are now exploring the concept of the “lean startup” movement to see how they too can become more like Twitter, Pinterest or Uber.  Of course, that it’s not just a matter of abandoning dress codes and allowing all employees more time to brainstorm innovative ideas. They are dealing with at least one major challenge the startups are not, and that’s legacy IT.

This difference was one of the reasons I recently hosted a CanadianCIO executive roundtable with the theme “The entrepreneurial CIO.” Sponsored by BlackIron Data, the discussion explored what savvy IT leaders could do to bring some of that startup spirit into their organizations. But when you’re dealing with a company that is still clinging to an aging, outmoded data centre and has policies designed to prevent experimentation with apps or outside devices, how entrepreneurial can most CIOs really be? These were some of the best points raised in the session:

Governance should create agility, not hamper it: Startups often lack structured frameworks for technology decision-making. Great, if you’re a small firm undergoing rapid growth, but established enterprises can’t afford that. Instead, they need to work on ways to optimize IT governance to accelerate process or policy changes and articulate its value as a way of reinforcing trust with key stakeholders.

Dominate one step of the journey: Startups often realize they can only help with a single piece of a puzzle — enabling e-commerce or sharing information through social channels. Enterprise CIOs need to look for discrete opportunities like this and use them as a means of setting strategic priorities with quick payback and competitive advantage.

Digital is one channel, but not the only one: Startups tend to see the world as online-only, but enterprise CIOs have the advantage of understanding all the offline ways in which customers need to connect, and how employees need to work effectively.

IT needs to change: Agile programming, DevOps and other methodologies need more support within the enterprise to see how technology teams can better collaborate with the business in more productive ways.

The other difference between startups and CIOs is that former really “get” community. Startups know how to network, steal the best ideas and provide mutual support. CIOs need to do more to build community with each other. As always, this magazine is a great place to start.

(Shane Schick is editor of CanadianCIO, which can downloaded here)

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Moving from the back office to the front lines: CIO insights from the Global C-suite Study
This report from IBM’s Institute for Business Value summarizes the results of more than 4,000 interviews with C-suite executives worldwide about the changing role of technology and the Chief Information Officer (CIO).
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