The 4 Association CIO Archetypes: Which One Are You?

 The association CIO today is a new breed of business leader, not the technology manager of the past. CIOs and other IT leaders are becoming strategic by necessity. They help associations use technology to implement strategy, achieve goals, deliver value to members, and provide a meaningful experience at every digital touchpoint.

The CIO drives digital transformation and, with it, the ability to modernize an organization’s culture. To be successful, today’s CIO must be a visionary, a trusted advisor, and a relationship builder.

What type of CIO & how influential are you?

Forbes identified four archetypes for the evolving CIO role:

Plumber CIO

Plumber CIOs focus solely on traditional IT tasks—keeping the network and systems running. They don’t impact their organization’s progress. Their main goal is to ensure everything’s flowing through the right ‘pipes.’

They focus their time and attention on infrastructure rather than engage and partner with business departments. Their concerns are centered on operational, not strategic, issues. A Plumber CIO is nearly always focused on today’s problems and rarely makes time or has the capacity to think about the future of the enterprise.

For example, if a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) tells a Plumber CIO that a new data analytics initiative needs hardware and software, the CIO says there’s no budget for it. Instead, they’re going to upgrade the on-premise backup system. Plumber CIOs don’t often see opportunities for using technology to achieve organizational or departmental goals. They spend their days worrying about servers, patches, and printers.

Servicer CIO

Servicer CIOs provide support and guidance for digital initiatives when asked, but they’re not proactive about developing their association’s digital capabilities or initiating other transformative projects. Like the Plumber CIO, a Servicer CIO is usually found in an organization with a Functional level of IT maturity—technology that’s ‘serviceable’ but isn’t moving the organization forward.

The Servicer CIO typically has a limited set of tools to apply. They’re process driven—which isn't a bad thing—but often lack the capacity or forethought to analyze a situation. They’re presented with a need and they provide a solution, without thinking about the organizational impact of that decision.

They typically don’t have a framework for project prioritization, or lack the authority to enforce one. The Servicer CIO ends up with fragmented technology offerings that serve many individual needs but don’t work harmoniously to move the organization forward. Associations with Servicer (and Plumber) CIOs have trouble with true business innovation because processes and services are disconnected from, or limited by, their technology.

So how would the Servicer CIO react to the CMO with the data analytics project? The Servicer CIO says they’ll rearrange the IT project schedule to meet the needs of the project. However, they don’t ask about the business or strategic goals of the initiative, nor do they fully gauge the impact of this reprioritization.

Both the Plumber and Servicer CIO are prone to reaction, not planning. They focus on tactics, not strategies. In organizations with Plumber and Servicer CIOs, IT is a service provider, not a strategic partner. These CIOs keep busy responding to requests rather than focusing their resources on strategically important technology initiatives.

Advocate CIO

Advocate CIOs think strategically. Their leadership extends across the enterprise. Colleagues think of these CIOs as partners because they’re skilled in collaboration and leverage their influence in positive ways to enable new business initiatives.

They’re results-focused, unbound by legacy thinking. The Advocate CIO is a champion for exploring new ideas and experimenting with new digital approaches for delivering value to members. The only hitch is they’re not fully accepted yet as a C-suite peer, but they’re getting close to having that impact and influence.

You’ll usually find Advocate CIOs in an association with an Effective level of IT maturity. In these organizations, technology is more than an operational tool—it supports the organization’s mission by adding value to the member, volunteer, donor, and constituent experience.

What does the Advocate CIO do with the CMO’s data project? It turns out the Advocate CIO was the one who initially told the CMO about this cloud-based data analytics tool. The Advocate CIO knew this tool could radically change the organization’s understanding of member engagement and help identify ways to improve it.

The Advocate CIO is a proactive champion of technology, not just someone to call when you need help. This CIO is also a team player, contributing strategic IT support and resources to the innovative ideas of others.

Transformer CIO

Transformer CIOs could also be called Chief Innovation Officers. They lead the organization’s digital transformation and are accepted as an association leader and business partner.

They’re business-oriented, demonstrating market knowledge of the membership base. They use data analytics to drive decision-making. They use technology to seek competitive advantage for the organization.

Not surprisingly, the Transformer CIO is usually found in associations with an Innovative level of IT maturity. An innovative association strategically uses technology to meet members’ existing needs and anticipate future needs. They have the appropriate people, processes, and tools in place to be indispensable to their members now and in the future.

The data project story is completely different with a Transformer CIO at the helm. After testing a minimum viable product, the CIO determines that substantial non-dues revenue could be made by providing access to research data the association is gathering. The CIO and the CMO present a business plan for this product to the CEO.

Now that you’ve been introduced to these four CIO archetypes, which one are you (or the IT leader in your organization)? You may also want to see how well you do on our CIO sniff test.

The roadmap from Plumber to Advocate

If you find yourself stuck in one of the lower archetypes, start taking steps on your own to move up.

Understand the association’s business. Meet with departments to discuss their contributions to the association. Ask about goals, metrics, plans, and challenges. Talk about ways IT can help them. Seek synergies across departments—be a silo breaker.

Be a perpetual student. Learn about issues and trends in:

  • Your members’ industry/profession
  • The association management profession
  • The association technology marketplace

Be curious and creative. Ask “why not?” Continually re-imagine how things are. Integrate disparate ideas as a habit.

Adopt an outside-in perspective. CIOs should focus more energy on solving member problems and less energy on solving staff problems.

Stay informed. Attend conferences that aren’t focused on technology—except the ASAE Technology Conference, that’s a must. Develop and maintain your peer network and don’t hesitate to steal ideas liberally from peers.

Find fellow visionaries. Identify other change catalysts within your organization. Partner with champions who support this shift in IT’s focus.

Seek business partners. Invite department heads and member leaders to talk to your IT staff about organizational goals, industry challenges, association trends, industry/market trends, and member needs. Partner with departments to implement solutions that address their challenges and needs. Become more than a technical advisor—become a business advisor.

Prove your value. Learn how to better communicate the value IT provides the association. Don’t miss any opportunities to show how technology and digital initiatives help the association achieve its goals, and empower staff and members. Help others connect the dots between technology and strategic success.

Roadblocks to CIO transformation

Identify the obstacles you must overcome as you work to transform IT’s role—and your leadership role.

Luddite leadership. You may have the gradual and painful realization that your leadership isn’t paying attention to the changing technology and consumer landscape. They don’t understand technology’s potential. They don’t know how other associations and for-profits are leveraging technology. They’re not proponents of change.

Educate them. Share successes from similar associations. Identify principles and practices you can adopt. Show them what’s possible. Paint a picture of two futures—what could happen if your organization transforms and what will happen if you don’t.

Small IT department. If you fight for change and succeed, staffing will follow. On the bright side, small staffs are often more agile—limited resources can spur more creativity.

Misguided perceptions. Colleagues might not be able to imagine you in a new role: “You’re just a technology geek. I don’t expect you to understand marketing (or some other business discipline).” Maybe they’re threatened by this change, maybe they just don’t want to work as hard as they must to push your organization forward.

Shift their perception. They’re the marketing expert, and you’re the technology partner who can help them achieve their goals.

Cultural dysfunction. These symptoms include:

  • BAU (Business as Usual) where the refrain of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is regularly heard
  • A rigid organizational structure complete with departmental silos
  • Insular leadership who are not ready to share their table with the IT guy/gal

Do your homework to understand where they’re coming from. Learn about their goals, challenges, needs, and aspirations. Stop plumbing—outsource commodity work whenever possible. Focus your resources on where you can add unique value to the business. Demonstrate small wins and back them up with data.

Besides being a Transformer, CIOs must also be a Coach, a Teacher, an Ambassador, a Visionary, a Promoter, and an Advisor. As you make a difference and rise from one archetype to another, you’ll increase your influence, win the trust and respect of your colleagues and C-suite peers, and create the path to becoming a Transformer CIO.

Learn about the four levels of IT Maturity—Restrictive, Functional, Effective, Innovative—and how to plot your path forward. Download our free whitepaper, Unleash Progress with Mature IT.

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