Enterprise Software investigate

Why today's CIOs may no longer be up to the job

As CIOs are asked to take a more strategic role in businesses fresh talent may be needed to take over from IT leaders stuck in an "order taker" mentality.

New blood may be needed at the top of IT departments to meet the changing demands being placed on CIOs.

The primary role of the CIO is shifting, from optimising and integrating packaged enterprise systems to identifying how new technologies can drive business advantage, according to Gartner research VP Mark Raskino.

"For a long time - maybe for two or three CIOs in a row - CIOs have been used to tidy up the mess made in the past," said Raskino, who has co-authored a new report CIO New Year's Resolutions, 2013.

"We've seen very large global ERP integration and standardisation projects. Those took the best part of a decade in some cases but they're mostly done now and I've met CIOs from all kinds of corporations who are saying the big question now is 'What next?'," he said.

What should come next, Raskino said, is that CIOs stop being order takers executing the demands of the board and start advising on the best ways to get business value from technologies like social media and mobile.

"Words like mobile and social are being used very vaguely, they don't describe capabilities or competencies. There's a loss of translation of ideas into action," he said.

"CIOs need to turn back towards being agenda formers as they were in the late 80s and early 90s," according to Raskino before many "got into a pattern of delivering packaged stuff from the industry".

The problem is that incumbent CIOs may not be the best qualified to carry out this more strategic role. Raskino argues that if a CIO was appointed "to spend the five years sorting out an ERP mess, you can't necessarily expect the same individual to become a progressive agenda setter after that," he said.

While some existing CIOs will adapt to the more strategic demands of the job, the high turnover of the post means that there will be a ready supply of new talent to meet this new challenge, he said.

"It's probable that we will start to see CIOs appointed who are being asked from the beginning to be more agenda forming."

Strategic vacuum

The failure of existing CIOs to provide this strategic guidance is creating a vacuum that few other business leaders or the IT industry executives are well-placed to fill, he said.

"The IT industry used to package ideas for businesses very well, that's why we had CRM and ERP. The industry doesn't need to provide that so much any more because a lot of the industry's revenue comes from consumers," he said.

And when it is left to other business leaders to set the technology agenda, they tend to favour strategies that are heavily influenced by consumer technology, which may not best serve business' needs, he said.

"You'll often see demands for tablet computers with scant justification for that," he said.

The failure of CIOs to provide the necessary technology strategy is leading to the creation of new roles to meet this need, he said.

"We are seeing the appointment of people like chief digital officers and chief data officers. It's symptomatic of businesses trying to create an agenda for the use of technology that isn't otherwise happening," he said.

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

12 comments
Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Whether the person in the position has the skills, and the position has the authority to address the relevant issues, where in Cthulhu's name did the implicit assumption that today's CIOs, or yesterday's were ever up to job come from? Facts not in evidence as Deepsand was often want to to say those who posted a bollocks opinion and the proceeded from there as though it was now a fact.

TooOldToRemember
TooOldToRemember

Or maybe we are not up to the job because we are tired of not just taking orders, but being ordered to cut costs and drive operational efficiency rather than the business improvements and sector differentiation we offered but had rejected. Speaking for myself and several other CIO members of my network, many (or even most) companies over the past decade were so concerned with lowering cost and improving efficiency through technology that if a project did not have an ROI greater than the corporate hurdle rate, it was rejected irrespective of the benefits and improvements it would bring, long-term, to the organization. It takes a mind-change from the top to begin to recognize some of the value a CIO can offer a company outside of cost-cutting. Yes, I have the requisite MBA in International Business, a BS double major in CS and Business, speak 3 to 4 different languages (on a good day) and still report to the CFO. I am fortunate that he allows me to operate independently of him in dealings with other C-level executives and division heads. But the overall direction from the top is still to manage costs. For those of us that want something more, I can only say that every opportunity I and my team have, we work shoulder to shoulder with the business to help them grow and expand their customer base. We operate on the principle that only after you show the ability to do something will you be asked to do it. Not a perfect strategy, but it is one that helps keep me and my people engaged with the business.

CACASEY
CACASEY

Gartner has it wrong. It isn't that the CIOs need to change. It's that the enterprise needs to rethink how the business runs and is organized. Issues with CIOs (and their reach, authority and tenure) have been a consistent problem since the role was invented. From my perspective, the key drivers of these issues is that "the business" 1) thinks they know how technology works primarily because of mass "consumerization", and 2) continues to relegate information technology aspects of the enterprise to pure cost-center status. You can see this in the fact that most CIOs do not actually have real C-level status - they report up through CFOs or COOs. These two aspects of corporate organization force CIOs into regressive, "order taking" roles rather than progressive partnering relationships. When I have strategic discussions with senior people about the critical (and thus elevated) nature of IT and why senior folks need to have a place at the strategy "table", I ask a very simple question - how long would the business be able to survive if a portion of it were removed or severely reduced? Remove entire HR marketing, or legal departments, or reduce finance to just basic invoice and bill paying and most businesses could operate for quite a while before they would slow down and eventually stop. How long would the business operate if you removed IT support? How long if you removed information technology altogether? Most would grind to a halt in a couple of days. 40 or 50 years ago this was not the case. Times have changed but the basic organizational roles and paradigms have not. I also think Gartner's position with regard to "cleaning up the mess" is off the mark as well. I've seen far too many ERP and Finance systems that were customized beyond recognition (creating a larger mess), not because of process redesign or automation efficiency gains strategically recommended by IT, but because IT was forced to implement solutions based on a "this is how we do it - make it work like that" mentality. While it may be a gross generalization, most senior non-IT executives have difficulty taking a rigorous look and making a concentrated effort to understand what is ultimately possible with long-term, strategic applications of technology. It is much easier to take a tactical, short-term approach and leave someone else to clean up the "mess" after they're gone.

viveka
viveka

The blog indicates a system failure. First, the role and job definition was not properly defined. Second, if it was defined, it was not fulfilled properly. Third, if it was fulfilled properly, there was no governance/accountability (holding the feet to the fire) to deliver. So, back to the non-performing CIO. I agree with previous three comments, for this is always displayed after a CIO comes in to the new role. You have the ambitious kind who needled their way into this role, but failed to deliver (many paths but mostly the biggest cause for failure is networking that short circuits the required due diligence). And you can find that most of the CIOs Nick mentioned came to this role was not based on capability but how well they were connected. It would be interesting to have this as an overlay to his analysis.

TRgscratch
TRgscratch

how is "high turnover" a good thing? It just means that the current CIO has no history with the current environment and doesn't care about the future environment.

NightLife6
NightLife6

Identify and provide technical solutions to enhance current Business model efficiency and effectiveness. Requires a thorough understanding of Business processes, current state of technology, and forthcoming technological advancements. Must have a creditable history of Business process efficiency improvements through implemented technological solutions along with academic degrees "Masters of Business Mgmt. and Computer Science" meriting acceptance into the C level staff. Otherwise, He / She is DOA.

gevander
gevander

If you said any title or phrase with the word "manager" in it you should not have the CIO position. The CIO's job should never be overseeing any "project", no matter how major. They identify the need and turn it over to their subordinates so they can concentrate on other things - like "what's next".

CACASEY
CACASEY

Good point Tony, but the converse can also be true - that the CIOs have always been up to the job and it was never "bollocks opinion" but fact all along.

tusharnene
tusharnene

"key drivers of these issues is that "the business" 1) thinks they know how technology works primarily because of mass "consumerization", and 2) continues to relegate information technology aspects of the enterprise to pure cost-center status. " ^^ THIS and everything else casey said. not considering someone in a CIO role on the same level as other C-level personnel strips them of the autonomy and authority to actually do what's necessary and puts control in the hands of those ill-equipped for the challenge. and why? because the CEO thinks he's figured out his or her iPhone and is now a tech guru?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Usually is, Well no. While things like viewing IT as a cost centre, choosing products based on who does the best free meal, myopic offshoring, Gartner led hype chasing, not to mention counter-productive moron class decisions like root kitting all your customers to protect your self from piracy, with pirated software. Seems to be a major difference of opinion of what the job is. Personally I woudl have said instituiting policies that protected the company from the consequences of the above. Facts suggest my opinion doesn't count for much, now whether the CIO dropped the ball, or had it confiscated is another question....

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

and I can assure more then a few non-CIO types have given me serious cringe as well. My own perspective is that the competency is irrelevant, as in most cases they are either not allowed to their job, or their job is to lose convincingly at golf and nod when of us types lapses into jargon... So in terms of the OP's article, I too shout BOLLOCKS!

CACASEY
CACASEY

Tony - I don't disagree with your conclusions based on the examples you provide, but I think like most things in life the spectrum of competency is broader than the presented samples. I've been fortunate to work with quite a few CIOs and senior IT Execs who are at the other side of the curve. I've seen them cringe, laugh or be visibly disappointed with respect to their colleagues when hearing about behavior you've described.