In an era of short attention spans and fickle attitudes, it’s hard to believe a book from the fourth or fifth century could still captivate people. The Art of War, however, continues to lend military strategy wisdom to people in all walks of life, particularly in business.
One of its principles is the following: “The one who figures on victory at headquarters before even doing battle is the one who has the most strategic factors on his side.” In other words, strategy, preparedness, communication with your team and even courage determines victory. These same virtues will be the tools of CIOs who win the great tech stack battle. The advantage, today, is anticipating events long before they occur.
When it comes to building your tech stack, it’s akin to going into Target for one item. Yes, you grab the milk, but you also fill your cart with a few one-dollar items, a great looking sweater for fall and a new phone case you really didn’t need (but had to have). It’s easy to add tech platforms and apps because life and work run at accelerated speeds. It makes sense that technology is always in a state of flux too.
So how do you win the tech stack battle? How do you get in front of it instead of being behind it? Here are three strategies to employ.
Strategy #1: When evaluating the tech stack, consider the expanded leadership role of the CIO
CIOs are no longer strictly IT and tools focused. Their role has emerged as a business partner to others in the organization, including the CEO.
According to a survey by MIT Sloan School of Management, CIOs who report to the CEO and meet with them regularly are more successful at driving strategic change.
Interestingly, Gartner also chimes in with its definition of a CIO: “As digital becomes a core competency, the CIO plays a key leadership role in the critical strategic, technical and management initiatives — from information security and algorithms to customer experience and leveraging data — that mitigate threats and drive business growth.”
The CIO’s job description has evolved into much more than an overseer of tech tools and services. As a result, the tech stack extends to other parts of the organization that have traditionally not been on the CIO’s radar. In the writing of my book Ascend Your Startup and in my many conversations with many CIOs, I also think it’s important to relay this message to the CEO who may not realize the CIO’s broad impact.
Strategy #2: Move decisively in the short-term, but play the long game
I had the pleasure of meeting Workday Chief Customer Officer and former CIO Sheri Rhodes. She’s a modern business icon. In her interview with ZDNet, she warns business leaders to take less of a reactive management approach and have “constant awareness of what’s taking place on the projects being completed.”
Her quote: “Good management is not about flying in when you expect something to go wrong. You need to stay along for the whole journey in terms of the energy of continuous delivery and looking for risk and being transparent.”
Moving decisively in the short-term does not mean you’re in reactive mode as a CIO. Decisive action goes back to preparation before you enter “battle” (because, let’s face it, technology leaders compete against accelerated technology trends, evolving consumer behavior, the tech talent shortage, just to name a few).
When choosing what goes in your tech stack, consider the long game. Will this app get us where we need to be in five years?
Strategy #3: Consider embedded intelligence to improve decision intelligence
For businesses, embedded intelligence could be part of what Gartner calls “decision intelligence,” which they define as “a wide range of decision-making techniques bringing multiple traditional and advanced disciplines together to design, model, align, execute, monitor and tune decision models and processes. “A good example of embedded intelligence comes by way of Workday, which integrates contextual views of information and analytics into its solutions. During the merit review process, for instance, a manager has quick access to preview cards, showing where employees are in the performance range, their retention risk level, and the last time they received a bonus. These bits of knowledge have informed Workday’s enhancements so business leaders are positioned to make better decisions with better data they might otherwise not even know they need.
Ask: what is the potential for embedded intelligence for our company? How could we interpret real-time metrics as business operations unfold? What triggers could we set that lead us to better decisions?
Including embedded intelligence in the tech stack will require CIOs to first look at their team. Enterprise software engineers understand cloud computing, but embedded systems software engineers understand the physical environment of embedded systems, right down to the chip their software is running on.
My final thought circles back to where we began. The Art of War is attributed to Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese general some say may not have even existed. Many believe the book is a collection of military strategy from many leaders and that the principles somehow landed in a single manuscript. In a way, this is the story of the modern CIO too. The path to victory will follow from the leadership lessons based, not only from their own experiences, but other leaders within the organization. Ultimately, victory for the technology-driven enterprise will be defined by customers and employees – and the experiences they regard as both meaningful and memorable.