Strategic CIOs Struggle to Achieve Ambitions

A new survey from the CIO Executive Council suggests that while CIOs aspire to be strategic leaders, they lack the time and appropriately trained staff to move out of an operational role.

Many CIOs aim to become more strategic IT leaders. But it isn’t easy.

The CIO Executive Council, a peer-advisory service founded by CIO’s publisher, surveyed members about the advancement of the CIO role and found it is significantly affected by an IT executive’s relationship with other C-suite leaders and business stakeholders.

Eighty percent of those surveyed aspire to be strategic IT leaders and 44 percent of CEOs want them to follow that path. Yet only 21 percent of respondents identify themselves in this role.

Fast Fact

More than half of IT leaders are currently transforming business processes, but 80% want to be strategic leaders.

Time management is difficult for CIOs trying to expand their role while running IT. While more than 90 percent say they want to focus on business strategy, improving IT operations and systems performance is taking most of their time. “If a CIO’s top concern is e-mail and physical backups, that’s not where they need to spend their time,” says Mike Skinner, CIO of Eurpac. “Move those routine services to outsourcing, then the CIO can focus.”

CIOs may be bogged down with day-to-day operational issues due to a lack of appropriate staff to delegate to. Fifty-three percent list developing leadership depth in their staff as the top issue impeding the advancement of their role. And 62 percent say that their top staff-improvement priority is training employees to partner better with business stakeholders. Training staff to understand the business better was a close second.

Chris Kohl, VP and CIO at Vertex, says working with other business leaders “gets you out from under your IT hat and lets you be seen as a business leader, not the IT guy. You are operating on a peer level and it raises your profile in the company.”

Having relationships with stakeholders also goes a long way toward building a CIO’s reputation and credibility. Respondents say meeting with stakeholders (more than 70 percent) and creating quick wins for business partners (more than 60 percent) have the most impact.

Roadblocks to Advancement

The biggest barriers to a business-focused CIO role
Developing leadership depth among the IT staff 53%
Finding time to shift focus away from IT operations 38%
Building credibility with business stakeholders 34%
Stabilizing IT operations and performance 33%
Gaining time to shift focus away from process and system issues 33%
Having sufficient knowledge of business and market strategy 30%
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