Four Reasons You Need a CIO

Screen capture: DynaSis

By Andrew Fretwell

Something out of the norm has happened. The Union for Reform Judaism recently posted an opening for Chief Information Officer. That in itself shouldn’t be extraordinary; every day we watch Chief Information Officers and Chief Technology Officers in other industries turn cutting edge technologies into sustained growth. Yet, for all our bluster about technology, URJ stands alone among major Jewish nonprofits in seeking a chief officer to do just that. It’s indicative that despite lip-service, we still mostly approach technology as a marketing utility at best, and a cost center at worst. And that just won’t cut it.

A recent McKinsey report states, “companies would do well to empower and require their CIO’s and other technology leaders to play a more meaningful role in shaping business strategy.” While that’s on point, we don’t yet have CIO’s or CTO’s in our field, let alone ones that shape strategy. So let’s start there and discuss four reasons your organization should hire a CIO or CTO:

To Make your Story more Exhaustive than Exhausting

Your CIO should be tasked with creating an integrated dashboard that quickly and accurately tells the story of what your organization is doing at a given moment, or over a given amount of time, in a single view. Too much energy is wasted upon manually tracking down numbers or patching clumsy automation tools. That makes for a blurred narrative that takes tons of work to compile. This can be remedied through establishing enterprise development operations (commonly called devops) that empower your organization to build applications to convert your data into a story. Further, a permissioned data sharing ecosystem that properly incentivizes participation (think loyalty programs) could create a direct pipeline from the field to your screen.

To Align your Digital Transformation with your Mission

The revolution is here and it isn’t televised, it’s being streamed, posted, and snapped. Digital transformation has already been happening at your organization, whether you’ve embraced it or are letting it take you along for the ride. The way we collaborate, position our brands, utilize data, manage devices, etc. is drastically different than it was five years ago, let alone ten. What has been missing from most organizations is a holistic strategy to align this digital transformation with mission and vision.

Instead, most organizations take a piecemeal approach: a new CRM here, a mobile device plan there, adopt Slack next week, etc. This type of technological patchwork is a swamp of inefficiency and lost opportunities. A strategic process matches the right policies, processes, people, and tools with your organization’s vision and the needs of your different internal and external audiences. That process should compel a needed rewiring of your organization and create space for utilizing cutting edge technologies as they emerge.

For example, blockchain is in its infancy in upending multiple industries through radical transparency. Your CIO should be the one considering how to utilize that transparency, and its accompanying technical architecture, to build stronger trust between your donors and your enterprise.

To Maximize the Voltage when you catch Lightning in a Bottle

Collaboration is becoming more common, diverse, creative, and way more real time, and not a moment too soon. We have yearned for tools to spur cross-pollination between professionals, donors, grassroots organizers, participants, and alumni. Platforms that do that are becoming more available, intuitive, and affordable every day; just ask Open Tent how a platform marketing approach via Salesforce can facilitate generative interactions between different constituents that have been pipe dreams until now. Gamification, geofencing, and real time personalization bring instant mass personalization to individuals you are engaging, increasing the amplification of your most successful campaigns by speed and reach. And there’s more! When those campaigns reach new audiences, machine learning and AI capabilities equip you to understand how to deepen that engagement. It pushes your viral successes to go even further, leveraging future successes. Your CIO should organize a strategy that maximizes a data driven approach.

To Choose Your Partners Wisely

There is a vast, fluid ecosystem of software, hardware, consultants, managed services, and outsourcers that pop up, morph, disappear, and reappear. Knowing to whom to listen, whom to offer a contract, and whom to politely ignore is vital. For example, many companies believed moving their data to the cloud with Amazon Web Services would be the magic bullet of savings without fully understanding cloud computing or Amazon’s pricing structure. They took bad advice and realized belatedly that while storing data with AWS is cheap, moving it from or within the cloud costs an arm and a leg. Future technological shifts and trends will create more examples like this. EU style data privacy regulations are around the corner; do you know which experts and vendors to inform your compliance strategy? Your CIO should know exactly who your trusted advisors are and who is full of it.

Yes, addressing each of these needs can be addressed with short-term consulting engagements. However, considering the rate at which technology changes, how soon will you need to reassess today’s decisions? When you reevaluate, will the party you’ve brought in understand what led you to where you are? The right CIO or CTO ensures your strategy is dynamic enough to move at the speed of technology, and be informed by your organization’s history and its vision for turning innovations into growth. Hopefully URJ is not an outlier, but the first of many organizations to adopt this imperative.

Andrew Fretwell worked as an educator and community activator for Young Judaea and the Birthright Israel Foundation between 2007 and 2016. He currently is the Chair of Repair the World NYC’s Advisory Board and is a Client Executive for Media and Publishing at IBM.