Thoughts on Obstacles to a CIO’s Success
Your Oct. 1, 2003, editorial (“The Greatest Threat to CIO Success”) asked an important question: Does the growing imbalance between demand and resources pose the greatest threat to CIO effectiveness?
I answer from the point of view of one concerned about data, that ethereal stuff that the business actually uses to create value for customers. Since IT helps collect, store, manipulate, process and make that data available, this point of view provides a unique perspective. Data, it seems, can (indeed, should) bridge the gap between IT and the business.
Unfortunately, from this perspective, the gap is enormous. Many businesspeople?perhaps even most?view their IT counterparts with skepticism. It’s not hard to see why. The litany of failures, many of them spectacular, is fresh in their minds. For many companies, data warehousing, data mining and ERP initiatives have all failed to live up to expectations. The latest is CRM.
Indeed the biggest success has been Y2K remediation, a success that stemmed from the failure of a previous generation of IT managers and came at an enormous cost. Now CIOs complain that their budgets aren’t growing fast enough and that business leaders have competing priorities. This has been the reality for virtually all business departments for 20 years or more. There are too many customers with too many needs, many of them conflicting.
Business departments have grown accustomed to doing more with less. Budget cuts can be capricious. But, over the long haul, those delivering the most value enjoy the bigger budgets. And those who fail to deliver suffer. CIOs may well miss out on yet another opportunity to hear what the business is really telling them. Thus, the biggest threat to CIO effectiveness is not the growing gap between demand and resources. It is that technology people still don’t understand what the business needs, don’t listen well enough to learn and don’t seem to care.
President, Navesink Consulting Group
Thank you for raising the questions on strategy, IT alignment and CIO effectiveness.
I concur with you that CIOs have a unique opportunity to lead an IT-enabled business strategy and make transformational changes. That should not be a stretch at all if the focus is to identify and reform cross-functional processes that affect the bottom line and ensure sustainable growth. In the progressive CIO paradigm, CIO effectiveness would be a factor of the enterprise’s capacity to respond to business needs and market volatilities, of which IT is an integral part with a definitive measurable impact on the business. CIO effectiveness would not be a measure of IT’s ability to respond to conflicting demands from different business units. Business units with the biggest clout can consume the largest portion of IT resources, while others that might make a greater impact on the business bottom line can be left in oblivion.
It is a mistake to talk of IT governance when the basic issue is the creation of an integrated business strategy. I wonder why we do not talk about finance, operations, and sales and marketing governance. Perhaps it is because we have ignored your observation that enterprises are rarely viewed in cross-functional, process-oriented ways, and that CIOs are uniquely positioned to have such a perspective.
The time has come for progressive CIOs to take their proper seat at the management table.