Emerging Tech

CIOs: Can you do what's being asked of you?

It seems like a line is being drawn in the sand for CIOs. If you want a seat at the corporate table, then you must play a part in business strategy. Is this too much to ask?

I've read lots of reports lately that warn of the fact that IT pros, particularly CIOs, are going to be asked to become more business-centric in the future. This is a more pointed extension of the IT/business alignment strategies that used to be talked about all the time.

It looks like businesses are looking to make IT/business alignment happen by making it a career requirement for CIOs.

According to the press, businesses have new requirements for the CIO who "wants a seat at the executive table." I may be looking at this rather simplistically but if you want a CIO who is up on the business, can predict technical trends years ahead of time in order to drive that business, AND keep the infrastructure humming, that CIO should have more than a seat at the table. He should be leading the show.

In other words, you are requiring a person who (in most cases) has an in-depth, focused knowledge of tech to also develop a separate set of skills-one that includes product innovation and data interpretation. There doesn't seem to be an understanding that those are separate skills.

And even if a CIO can achieve all this, how many years will it be before he or she can get a tech initiative okayed by the CFO without question or without a panel consensus? I'm not sure it can happen. The idea that IT is a cost center and that IT pros are so infatuated with technology that they recommend solutions just because of the "cool factor" is very ingrained in upper management. Is it also the CIO's "duty" to sway that opinion? And what about the huge responsibility of keeping existing systems up and running? How can one person do all of this?

What do you think? Will CIOs be able to pull this feat off?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

11 comments
wrlang
wrlang

If you can't point IT in the direction that best supports the objectives of the business, then you aren't qualified to be a CIO. I'm not a CIO and all my activities are rooted in a business need. Shouldn't IT in general move in the direction where everyone can explain which business objectives a particular activity is meant to support? Just seems logical.

John Dickey
John Dickey

Toni, I tend to agree with WKL... Having worn many hats in my 30 years in the business and having been a CIO for an international publishing company, here was my experience. When I was hired by them I felt it was part of my job to learn the industry, learn their business, see how the work flowed and then analyze, develop and implement IT into the business. At first the CEO and the board looked strictly at IT as a cost center, but I took the time to educate them on the benefits of incorporating IT throughout the structure... from typesetting and proofing, through customer service, marketing and exploration of new income streams. Once I did this they looked at IT in a whole new vein and I was not only accepted as an upper level executive but was also considered a vital member of the team. I did have to fight at first to develop a strong IT department, but by doing so it allowed me the time to be involved in the business strategy. I don't really see where this is new because isn't it the responsibility of a CIO to do this for a business? Otherwise what is the need for the title?

Beejer
Beejer

Being a CIO is not about being a technology expert. The middle initial in the title is "I" for information, not "T" for technology. High performance businesses are driven by information, which drives new revenue sources and meets corporate regulatory (SOX anyone?) and liability rerquirements. The organization and management of this information is the CIO's responsibility. The CIO needs to be at the executive table to ensure that the business' information needs are engrained in its business processes. ROI can mean "risk of incarceration" as easily as "return on investment". Which one do you think resonates the strongest around the executive table?

reisen55
reisen55

When CIOs are pressed to handle large issues such as integrating international divisions into a cohesive solid entity, they have an out - a magic one. Hand the mess off to Computer Sciences Corp or somebody like that, such as ACS or EDS. Let George do it and I have seen CIO at Aon Group do just that in August 2004. Cut and Run, sell your stock and be out before further mess hits that fan.

WKL
WKL

The entire premise seems absurd to me. IT on the whole is a specialty in its own right, which is used universally regardless of the nature of any particular business. For IT adepts to also call the shots in the business they serve would essentially make the business IT-centric. Which would be fine if the business actually is IT-centric. As a tool to help run a business, the only feat that needs to be pulled off by the "CIO" is fitting IT to the unique needs and peculiarities of the particular business, assuming that it's even possible or applicable to begin with. Clearly, IT finds its best fit among businesses that deal with information as their core modus operandi. It may not be such a good fit for businesses that have little or nothing to do with it beyond the basics of accounting, payroll, recordkeeping, etc. So what's the big deal? Who is making such demands of CIOs? What exactly are they expecting of IT? Do they want IT to take over businesses? If so, why? Do they even understand what IT is all about themselves? Who comes up with this stuff??

mjongeward
mjongeward

While having a strong technology background is certainly a big plus for a CIO it is by no means a requirement. It is not necessary for a CIO to be able to install and support servers in order to be a technology strategist and visionary. It is equally important that a CIO have strong business accumen. Here is a quick summary of the proper roles within an IT department: When building a road through the forest the IT technicians cut down trees, grade and build the road. The IT manager makes sure it is done on time and within budget. The CIO makes sure the road is being built in the right forest.

WKL
WKL

The very enhancement of capability and efficiency of the technology that business demands can be used by the IT techs, can it not? Why can't they leverage the power of the technology to essentially do what the IT manager and CIO does? Put another way, what is so special/unique/indispensable about the "CIO" that only they can tell everyone which is the "right forest"?

mjongeward
mjongeward

I know many brilliant IT folks. All are smarter then me from a technology standpoint and all but a few have a fatal flaw... sticking to the forest theme....many times they " cannot see the forest for all the trees". They constantly get caught in the details. They don't always see the 'big picture'. A view from 30,000 feet is very different than the view from 100 feet. Making a strategic decision that commits a company to a certain direction technically for 3-5 years is not for the faint of heart. Not everyone is good at this type of thinking and there is no 'technology' that can do it for you. Experience helps. The past is a good indicator of future success.

stephena
stephena

Mjong, that is a great answer. I "grew up" as a techie and didn't really understand "IT Strategy", nor cared about it, until I moved out of the technical world and into the IT Business world. Ever since the move out of the techical world, I have been exposed to so much more than "keeping the lights on" and I now have a deeper appreciation for the role of the CIO. There is something to be said though about small business vs. large business and how this theory of the CIO Strategist applies. I have worked in both environments and in the small business there is very little need for "IT/Business alignment", in my opinion. I didn't say there is NO need, but very little and here are some reasons that I've experienced (your experiences may be different): (1) most small businesses don't have the funds to support the alignment of IT and the business; (2) they don't care to align IT and the business. They are more focused on the products they are delivering then on spending money on IT; (3) the vision of a small business can change in a heartbeat thus making alignment VERY difficult in the first place. In conclusion, what i'm trying to say is, this theory of the IT leader being a "strategist" is not essential across every type of business. In corporations and large businesses, yes, I believe it is essential because every decision is critical to the direction of the business. All decision makers need to be on the same page, including IT leaders. In small businesses, I don't believe it is essential, but that's not to say that SBs can't benefit from an IT Strategist as a leader. It's just that SBs focus mainly on their core business, so IT alignment to the business is last on their priority list (if it's even on there list at all). I'm guessing that based on WKL's comment he is from a small business environment.

fgranier
fgranier

Doomed if they do not. It is implied in the title Chief Information Officer, else it is just an over rated title.

avgoustinosc
avgoustinosc

Hi Toni, I believe that i have some answers on your questions since am facing the aforementioned problems everyday as the IT manager of Andreas Neocleous & Co LLC, which is law firm that is getting larger day-by-day and also the management "requires" state-of-the-art technology that will be help also the business to work more effectively and also to bring more income. I am working on this company for the last two years and from the first day I came here I followed one strategy. "Strengthen the IT department in order to share the work load" or, to better understand, I strengthen the technical skills of the technical team of the department. Using this technique I manage to keep the current systems up and running without any problems and also I have the time to read more about new technologies, read more about business trends and read more about management. Even though my background is more technical such as Active directory, MS exchange, SQL and servers in general, I managed to persuade the management of the company that my job is to MANAGE the department effectively and not to support servers and users. This is very important for a CIO since the management of the company needs to depend on a business oriented CIO and not on the ?guy that is good with computers?. However, the big issue in this occasion is to be able to learn inside-out the work flows and the data flows that all the departments and users in general follow in order to be able to "help" all these people to do their jobs easier. This was the biggest problem I faced since in most companies, they have "loads and loads" of technology that they do not use it effectively. That?s all from me. I believe that I cover most of your questions. I will appreciate also any other feedback regarding this matter since CIOs have loads of things to read everyday (like me  ) and there is not enough time to keep your self up to date with all new technologies. Thanks Avgoustinos Constantinides IT Manager Andreas Neocleous & Co LLC

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