Is the downturn playing into the hands of ambitious CIOs?

Over the past year, what has emerged from the CIO research and networking events that K2 Advisory has run is that despite the obvious constraints on IT spend, senior IT decision makers in the UK continue to demonstrate creativity and resilience.

Our researches have shown the great range of priorities held by CIO — all of which tend to be connected by the common thread, which is cut what can be cut and do more for less.

The trick, of course, is how to address that while making the business case for new technology investments.

In its latest study, entitled The Essential CIO, IBM has presented its take on how CIOs around the world are tackling the primary challenges they face. The study is based on interviews with 3000 CIOs, and one of the main set of findings is the classification of IT leadership into four mandates:

Expand– key attributes: Refine business processes and enhance collaboration
Leverage – key attributes: Streamline operations and increase organisational effectiveness
Transform – key attributes: Change the industry value chain through improved relationships
Pioneer – key attributes: Radically innovate products, markets, business models

The mandate you as a CIO take depends upon what your organisation is trying to achieve and what strategy is agreed with your board.

As your organisation evolves (whether you need to grow quickly or you need to accelerate profitability) you are likely to switch between mandates, says IBM.

One thing that came out of the study was the observation that CIOs are now much more closely aligned with the CEO in terms of their outlook towards the market, clients and skills.

In the context of the ongoing debate around whether CIOs are taking more board or strategic positions — and whether their future will be more dependent on their business management skills as opposed to IT management skills — this is an interesting result.

So for instance, in companies where the economic downturn has led to an intense focus on improving operational and market performance, IT has been brought into the strategic discussion to understand what it might contribute.

By the same token, well positioned companies are using the downturn as an opportunity to invest in initiatives such as new revenue streams or acquisitions – and again, IT is being pulled in to help drive that.

My question is whether this is a temporary tweak as companies work out how to best survive the downturn, or whether it is a genuine gear-change for the CIO role.

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