I've taken to calling it "The Scarlet A," this persistent quest for IT/business alignment that brands senior IT leaders everywhere. My smart-alecky phrase cracks a few smiles of weary recognition from CIO audiences, but nobody argues against IT initiatives lining up with business goals.
But as our annual State of the CIO survey discovered, IT's commercial focus is fast becoming the sharper edge of alignment (see "Acting on Opportunity"). Also new in this issue is "Connecting Points" a collection of peer advice from our workshops.
Chevron CIO and President of IT Louie Ehrlich points out that last year's global recession accelerated the drive to use IT in "building and maintaining an understanding of the commercial and customer side of the business." The truly aligned companies of the future, in other words, will be those where every division, every department, every manager and every employee is working toward the goal of winning over customers. And guess what lives at the very center of the customer experience?
Just listen to CIO Drew Martin of Sony Electronics: "In so many of the products offered now, the differentiating component is the IT capability." Certain Sony TVs, for example, now stream movies wirelessly thanks to products IT helped create. "You have to have an awareness of where your business is trying to go," Martin says.
Standing out in our survey was the finding that more than three times the IT leaders identified "seizing commercial opportunities" as a personal leadership competency (22 percent this year versus 6 percent last year). Some 30 percent of the 594 IT leaders we surveyed identified "meeting or beating business goals" as a critical core competency, and "external customer focus" popped up as another vital skill for twice as many respondents this year.
While still far from the majority, some CIOs are running businesses alongside oversight of internal IT. Like CIO Anna Ewing at the Nasdaq stock exchange, who runs the division that sells Nasdaq's technology to financial exchanges around the world. A CIO's ability to spot new business opportunities comes from thinking like a CEO, Ewing believes.
This all points to what our CIO Executive Council calls "The Future-State CIO," a top exec primarily focused on broadening beyond operational excellence into customer impact and business strategy. As Ehrlich aptly puts it: "Let's create a future where the CIO not only can play a strategic external/commercial role, but is called upon by CEOs to do just that." Alignment 2010 could be a whole new game for CIOs, at long last!