by Soumik Ghosh

What it takes for a CIO to become the next CEO

Feature
Apr 10, 2016
BudgetingBusinessCareers

In a tête-à-tête with CIO India, Kalpana Pandey, CEO, CRIF High Mark, shares her insights into what keeps CIOs from making it to the top, and what it takes for the tech head to don the crown. 

Digital transformation is not just creeping its way into the enterprise, but marching over the landscape like an invading army. So, will we see more CIOs donning the mantle of a CEO? Research suggests not. An FTSE (Financial Times Stock Exchange) survey revealed that out of the 350 CEOs, only one was formerly a CIO (Philip Clarke at Tesco).

So, what’s keeping our IT leaders from snaring the CEO’s chair?

CRIF High Mark is currently the country’s only credit information bureau to cater to all borrower segments. What sets it apart is the fact that it is helmed by a CIO-turned-CEO – A rarity in the enterprise.

A Computer Science engineer from IIT Roorkee, Pandey started her career with SBI as an Assistant. Manager, Systems, and then moved to IDBI as a part of the asset-management team, and was later promoted as the head of technology.

Primed and prepped with extensive technological and banking knowledge at SBI, IDBI, HDFC, and now, CRIF High Mark, Kalpana Pandey had what it took to make the cut for a CIO’s position. Here’s what she believes helped her in getting to the next rung.

Be a high tech crackerjack, it helps

As a CTO at CRIF High Mark, Pandey was responsible for various business critical systems and their subsidiary companies as well. The role revolved around doing cost-benefit-analysis and ROIs for tech solutions – using technology as a tool to fulfill business needs.

“In 2013, I joined High Mark as the CTO. As this business revolves around technology, and if you’re able to decipher the cost benefit using tech solutions, I believe that can immensely help you in your job prospects within the company,” she explains.

Pandey believes that when you’re able to do this cost-benefit analysis and provide business solutions, it helps in the board considering you for the role of a CEO.

Key to the castle

The trick of the trade, she believes, is aligning technology goals with business goals, and doing a risk-based analysis, understanding risk-based costing, and compliance.

“It boils down to striking the right balance between the controls and the cost. Too many controls results in too much time, and time is money. It also involved knowing about, and incorporating best practices around governance, risk, and compliance. And then having adequate controls in mitigating these risks,” says Pandey.

This insight into governance, risk and compliance gave her immense exposure and learning, and that is critical for the role of a CEO.

Pal up with your peers

 “You simply cannot be successful if your peers are not supporting you. I was fortunate enough to get the support from the board, my peers, and also at the RBI,” stated Pandey.

She believes this also helped her to develop a let’s-get-it-done attitude, and not citing reasons why something cannot be accomplished.

Also read: CIOs must collaborate with a new ‘digital champion’ – the CEO

“As long as you’re ready to learn something new every day, there’s nothing that can stop you from moving forward,” she added.

Common CIO cinchers. Take em’ by the horns!

One of the challenges, Pandey believes, is in understanding the business. This is at the heart of it – Understanding the business. If the technology head doesn’t have this inclination, moving up the ladder would be an almost-impossible task.

Like it or not, the Indian enterprise revolves around the ‘paisa vasool’ concept.

“In India, how much ever we talk about the quality of any product, irrespective of the sector, ultimately it’s a pricing game. That is another challenge – To understand how the market is playing on these angles,” observes Pandey.

Citing her experience, she said that understanding compliance, dealing with regulations, and risk assessment were not real problems. But, learning business was definitely a challenge, and that’s where support from the core systems is critical. It definitely helps to have your board, the chairman, and your peers to be really forthcoming.

Pandey’s two cents’ worth for CIOs

“I think business inclination is the key – Aligning technology goals to business goals is the key. You can’t implement technology for the sake of technology. It has to make business sense. Any technology solution should be for increasing business, or reducing the turnaround time, or improving operational efficiency, or maybe for compliance,” says Pandey.

The other factor, she believes, is keeping in view scalability, availability, and security.

“From my experience, I’ve also seen that technology heads take the stand saying the business guys never told me about their needs. So, the other success parameter would be for you to understand what the business needs – For you to be proactive in identifying the need, and coming up with a relevant solution. Sometimes, the business guys would only give you single statement requirements,” she explains.

A better stance, in her view, would be for you to take the problem to them, and describing the solution and the impact it can bring about.

Emphasizing on the need to think out of the box, Pandey says that when you’re working on a system that’s already up and running, your solutions ought to be more on the impact analysis.

Also read: CEOs seek CIOs with a ‘bias for action’

Having an open mind to do an impact analysis on systems which are already running, and when it comes to exploring new solutions, one needs to approach them with an open mind.

“Sometimes you may be asking some very fundamental questions, but if you reconsider the business problem, you might be coming up with some really good ideas. It has actually happened in my career,” beams Pandey.

“You could come up with something that could really delight the customer. The customer here could be referring to your internal teams as well,” she adds.

Learn the legal lingo

A very important, but often underrated factor for a tech head is to understand the legal implications. This could be a very tricky part, as when you sign new contracts, they could have far-reaching legal implications. A lot of times, the tech guys say “It’s not my area, let the legal guys worry about it.”

But, it’s a no-brainer that people setting their sights at the next level should be looking at this with an open mind, isn’t it?

“The legal guys can chip in with the terminology, and how to work. But, you as a core solution-provider, know what it is to put up a clause in a certain way. So, don’t bank on them for this bit,” advises Pandey.

In addition to this, it helps you develop in a holistic manner, and this is what gets you to the next step.

“Another aspect, is of course, people management. But, if you’re already among the top brass, you ought to be good at it. This also involves crafting a good retention policy for your employees, motivating them, and giving them the right benefits, and ensuring seamless alignment between different teams,” she says.

A CIO’s role is constantly evolving

Gone are the days when the tech head in an organization was content burying his fingers in the silicon soup. Technology has changed, and so has the role of a CIO. It can best be described by a word that many of you CIO’s love to use – Disruption.

“The role of a CIO is becoming more and more demanding. I personally feel that because the role of a CIO is so demanding, it is making you ready for the next level,” says Pandey.

Technology is no longer a cost center, it’s becoming increasingly vital in any company, irrespective of the vertical. And we can see them being involved in core management and strategic committees, as their roles are becoming more and more important.

What a CIO expects from a CEO

The CTO should be kept in loop about the long-term and short-term goals of the company. There are no two ways about this.

“So, instead of just giving the immediate requirement, for a CTO to be successful at his job, he should know about the long term vision of the company. Also, knowing what kind of scalability the business guys are looking for, what kind of uptime is needed, are factors that’d really help,” she believes.

“The main reason is because if the long term goals are different, the technological architecture could be very different, and the scoping should happen effectiveness,” explains Pandey.

“I’ve also seen that business heads can put too many controls in place, making it a long-drawn process,” she observes.

 If you’re expecting things to be done quickly, it’s imperative to keep requirements on the process front to a skeletal minimal.