by Chris Potts

Unlocking the CIO’s Strategic Contribution

Jan 05, 20093 mins

Three independent surveys into the role of the CIO highlight some keys to unlocking the CIO’s contribution to corporate strategy.

I’ve been comparing the data and conclusions from three recent and authoritative surveys concerning the role of the CIO.  They are:  CIO Magazine’s 2009 “State of the CIO”;  IBM’s “The CIO Profession:  Leaders of Change, Drivers of Innovation”;  and Deloitte/Cranfield’s “Realising the Value From a CIO:  Navigating the Silicon Ceiling”.

Amongst all the useful findings about perennial subjects such as reporting lines, business priorities, CIO tenures, and so on are some nuggets of data and commentary that offer the more forensically-minded CIO some valuable insights on her potential strategic contribution, and how to unlock it.

Here are six of the best:

  • The CIO role is widely misunderstood. Therefore you have the opportunity to innovate in the true purpose of your role and how you want to achieve it.

  • Most people still think that the CIO role is primarily about IT, often not differentiating it from the CTO. Unearth for people the non-technology, strategic aspects of your role, and make them central to your business contribution.

  • Many, many people are still trying to overcome the ‘hurdle of business IT alignment’.  Break the deadlock by helping people to see that this is a flawed model.  “The business” is not a single, fully aligned unit, with “IT” separate and uniquely misaligned.  Instead, help to pinpoint any damaging misalignments in the business as whole, and work with the CEO and other executives to prioritise and fix them.

  • There is a huge mismatch between the kinds of value that organizations are planning to achieve with their IT-related investments, and what CEOs actually expect. Instigate a review of the organization’s strategy for exploiting investments involving IT, in collaboration with the CEO. The difficult economic climate makes this essential. Not a penny of investment should be wasted on the wrong kind of value.

  • The CIO role is becoming a leader of change, yet only 30% of CIOs in one survey think that change leadership is a critical competency in the CIO role. Make sure you are one of them.

  • The CIO role may well be temporary, lasting only until the organization has embedded information and technology into its strategies and management. Plan now for a much more influential executive position if the CIO role diminishes in importance, and execute that plan in every decision and action.

Finally, a word of caution about how you articulate strategy.  The IBM survey lists four CIO competency areas:  Leadership;  Business Strategy and Process;  Innovation and Growth;  Organization and Talent Management.  To assume and portray such a tight coupling between Strategy and Process can be very damaging to your prospects, and your strategy, depending on the culture of your organization and the focus of your CEO.  Strategy can easily be about any of the other three competency areas, and more not listed. 

So rather than typecast yourself as appearing to think that all business strategies are about the same thing, keep Strategy as a distinct competency and adapt its tactical focus depending on the context.  Also, make sure you separate Corporate Strategy from Business Strategy in everything that you do, and make it clear which one is your primary strength.