Great Expectations from the New age CIO
V C Gopalratnam, VP, IT and CIO, Globalization, Cisco
The mission of IT in enterprises is changing; IT strategy and capabilities are becoming more and more closely aligned to the company's business objectives and the predominant role of the CIO is to enable revenue growth. This does not mean that the mandate to improve cost efficiency will fade away. For CIOs, the most important technology objective is to help improve knowledge management as well as respond quickly to market changes.
Companies that can successfully manage the transition of the CIO from an information processing function to a knowledge management role have an enormous competitive advantage over those that do not understand and adapt to the demands of a changing business world. To negotiate successfully the coming of age of corporate IT, CIO's must radically rethink their jobs, incorporate new business skills, forge relationships with corporate leaders and be responsibilities for strategic thinking.
CIO, the new age strategist
In today's knowledge-based economy, the function of the chief information officer (CIO) is becoming increasingly complex and multi-dimensional. The senior IT executive is responsible for managing and deploying information technology in the pursuit of business objectives.
The CIO faces a host of challenges, from overseeing the convergence of technologies to grappling with varied platforms, compliance and, data security - along with tight spending budgets. From a legacy perspective, the IT function has been deeply involved in a cost cutting role - mainly because of the expectations of hitting cost efficiency targets.
However, the changing times have ensured better consistency in priorities at the C-level - for effective IT- business alignment. This means that as information management moves from the wings of company operations to centre stage, the role of the CIO is shifting from the technical business of data processing to a more broadly conceived job of knowledge management. Today's CIO is at the centre of many of the most volatile and costly changes in the life of a corporation and acts as an important voice in strategic planning and has assumed new responsibilities that go far beyond the role that once defined the position.
In order to implement process changes in behaviors and information practices in the company, the CIO must be a genuine player on the senior management team rather than a functional lead so that his contribution has an impact on the company's mindset, actions and business. He must direct IT-enabled processes and projects, collaborate closely with business managers inside the company and with customers, partners and suppliers outside.
The CIO must contribute to the effective use of information and knowledge in business units by developing appropriate information, people and IT capabilities. The acquisition of new technologies is an important initiative to improve the levels of IT- business alignment. New technology acquisition strategies, such as those provided by the cloud - service-based (XaaS) or pay as you go models, enable the move from CapEx to OpEx. By linking technology deployment and use of information to business capabilities, CIOs can exploit IT and information management to break free from the cycle of competitive necessity.
Openness to change
Some decentralization of functions across business units marks the beginning of the end of IT departments as we know it. One can foresee the disappearance of stand-alone IT departments - and many companies are ready to consider radical solutions to bring IT and business together. It behooves the CIO to create more strategic value and promises more clout and responsibility to the IT organization than ever before.
We (CIOs) have to start acting as innovators and process experts. We have to comprehend how business actually works from end to end because it gives us insights into running the business better. We are playing more and more strategic roles in customer facing business initiatives and areas where we are not accustomed to be a part of.
Enterprises today, are rethinking the skill set associated with the CIO function - including the way in which they use the CIO, the CIO's relation to the senior officers, performance expectations and evaluation process, performance incentives and remuneration. The ideal qualifications for the CIO are changing as the IT function becomes more central to business planning and includes technical qualifications, plus a background in understanding finance, marketing and strategic projects along with business planning. While it is not easy, successfully implementing the transition in the CIO role is the key to the success of organizations today.
Communication is another important competency required of the CIO. Being able to communicate to all levels of the organization, having a forum for sharing ideas and engaging people in communication and the process of change allows for consensus and buy in on strategic decisions at all levels. Relationship building (or human resource management) is another requirement besides business strategy and process, innovation and talent management.
Together with the need to articulate more explicitly how technology delivers value to the business, the CIO must "differentiate to lead" through multiple innovation strategies. The need to own innovative and successful brands is a key CIO strategy. Along with IT and marketing, the CIO can align to capture innovative ideas for building customer loyalty, strengthening the brand and creating a differentiated customer experience.