Monday, September 13, 2010

CIO Trilogy: last brick in the wall

Recently, a respected publication’s edit piece on CIOs highlighted the enterprise’s changing expectations from a CIO. This insight was gleaned from “CIO wanted” advertisements as well as discussions with headhunters or executive search companies. Some of these headlines were on the lines of “CIO with ABC ERP implementation experience”, “Full lifecycle ERP experience is a must”, “Should have worked in discrete manufacturing”, and “Strategic CIO with operational experience reporting to CFO…”. The last one especially is a paradox!

After an oscillating experience between East Asian and Indian leaders on their perceptions of the CIO this month, changing expectations from the enterprise brings up an important question, “Is the CIO role changing subtly by taking a direction divergent from where current and future CIOs want to be?” Yet another passionate discussion revolved around enterprises hiring CIOs from outside the IT functions. This trend may be positive or negative based on your frame of reference.

Enterprises have faced challenges in the execution of large cross-functional (or high-end technology) projects. Many of these adversely impacted operations or delivered limited value commensurate to the effort. Some were possibly due to oversell by the IT organization which led to inflated expectations from these investments. However, a large number of these projects have observed no correlation to technology (as has been consistently reported by the Standish Group in their tracking of IT project success over a decade). Instead of technology, management involvement has remained the primary influencing factor in these projects. Even if it seems irrelevant at this point, the final buck for effective technology adoption stops with the CIO. Thus, this has given rise to the hypotheses that “forget the strategic part of IT, let’s get someone who can fix the operational pieces first”.

Outsourcing of the support services, changes in educational structure, and consumerization of IT has demystified the technology black box. The new workforce has grown up with technology. As a result, they are unafraid of exploring new frontiers that current set of leaders and managers in their 40s and 50s may not always be keen upon. With the continuous thrust on Business IT alignment (BITA) and many commentaries on “IT is too important for the enterprise to leave it to techies”, the new business leader is emerging from non-IT domains. More importantly, he is reasonably equipped to get started on the journey towards becoming a CIO.

The current generation of technology professionals (either CIOs or those moving towards the role) must pay heed to this new trend. As is evident, the minimal expectation is to ensure operational efficiency from all projects and meeting of baseline business expectations. Industry knowledge now supersedes technology expertise for the leader, but well rounded experience matters at the next level.

After all, if the enterprise continues to remain challenged on effective usage of technology for any reason, even if not attributable to the CIO, the role will be downgraded to the position of an operational IT manager reporting into the CFO.

1 comment:

  1. Agree: I believe the reason for the struggle that IT has is directly related to non-technical management teams. Meaning, IT management sometimes have a technical degree, but after a year or two of practicing the profession become a manager and then move up through the management ranks. Their technical expertise always limited by their few years of actual work in the profession. Hence why strategy is always the focus at senior/executive levels, as it should be, however, operational IT is left to flounder...the limited knowledge of middle and line management continue to keep the operational aspects of IT in complete chaos, as they have little actual professional experience to draw on...hence they run to vendors to provide product and services to supplement their gaps in knowledge, in hopes of keeping the gap hidden, at least long enough to get the next promotion. The solution, stop assuming that management teams are leadership teams, and the most senior/executive level management teams should be populated with only leaders that have expertise in their field, as well as all the business skills to manage the business of IT. That's a tall order, but unless we raise the bar and insists our most senior managers are our most senior leaders, then IT is doomed to mediocrity never really having a seat at the executive table. Thus causing the continuos waste of IT spend, and never reaping the strategic business value from the technology.