CIO Career: More Strategic Than Ever

Feature Article | November 29, 2012 by Susan Galer

Photo: iStockphoto

One of the dangers that come with the rise of technologies like cloud is that companies devalue the CIO. They mistakenly believe that because software is outsourced, the CIO is no longer needed. In fact, the CIO has never been more valuable.

For example, Josh Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting puts deep, statistical analysis skills at the top of the CIO’s job requirements list. “The company has to figure out how to unleash the statistical analysis needed to do business better, and CIOs may be in the best position to lead the charge. This elevates the CIO to a strategic position away from operational facilities management,” he says.

Incredibly dynamic business models, particularly in consumer industries, are forcing CIOs to assume the mantle of visionary. Evan Quinn, an industry analyst at ESG, believes CIOs need to start viewing everything from the outside in. “They have to ask what is my competition, my industry, and my business doing? What interesting IT skills are out there? Then they can look at what they have internally and develop a path forward.”

Innovations are changing everything

Unprecedented access to technologies like mobile, cloud, and real-time analytics are fundamentally changing the CIO’s role. CIOs need to make the strategic connection between technology and the business so companies use innovations to their greatest advantage.

Quinn sees business finally entering the Enterprise 2.0 era, where IT brings more value to customers and partners. “Integrated technologies are redefining the notion of applications. We’re seeing Amazon.com-style apps that combine social, transactional, and big data analytics, and that deal with multiple languages, currencies, and the expectation of real-time fulfillment.”

If CIOs don’t execute and deliver projects on time and on budget, they won’t have the credibility with the business to support anything else. As Quinn points out, “The CIO has to keep pace with trends. This includes understanding the landscape of technology products such as SAP HANA that help produce business results.”

Greenbaum believes the growth of intelligent devices armed with sensors will dramatically change business models. As technology is embedded into every aspect of our lives, from sensors in wearable devices, to “smart” parking, clothing, paper, pens, appliances and the like, CIOs need to respond.

“Are we going to participate in Facebook and Twitter are easy questions. But will we put a sensor with an RFID chip in our products, and what will we do with the information we collect is a much bigger issue for CIOs to grapple with,” he points out.

Next page: Stay ahead of the innovation curve

The concepts of engagement and collaboration—internal and external‒are among the big initiatives sitting on the CIO’s desk today. Greenbaum predicts, “One of the great discoveries over the next five years for CIOs will be how to put social into a context where it’s no longer an experiment waiting to fail but actually an initiative that can succeed.”

Greenbaum also notes that cloud computing has shifted IT from a capital to an operational expense, ostensibly freeing up the CIO’s budget for more innovation. However, he warns against innovation fatigue. “The CIO has to sort through all kinds of ideas walking in the door looking for money – good and bad. They have to keep the lights on and stay ahead of the innovation curve.”

Collaboration matters, budget ownership doesn’t

Innovations like cloud computing and mobility deliver software that appeals directly to line of business decision makers. It’s a dynamic that changes how the CIO relates to internal stakeholders.

Steve Romero, president of Romero Consulting, says many businesses expect the CIO and IT to simply “get out of the way” while the business makes unilateral information technology purchases – at least until they need the CIO and IT to solve the operational, maintenance, security, and assurance needs that these new technologies almost certainly introduce.

He calls on everyone to work together on formal governance processes to explore and adopt new technologies. “Beyond just bringing in the sexy, fun smartphones, the business needs to be accountable for security, assurance, availability, compliance and reliability while IT needs to be open to the needs of the business,” he says.

Michael Krigsman, CEO of Asuret, also urges the business to give the CIO the respect that a genuine partner deserves, “If you work in a line of business, treat IT as a business partner. Don’t devalue IT.”

Romero cautions against using budget size as an indicator of the CIO’s strength. “I don’t care who owns the budget. What matters is if good decisions are being made. No one group should unilaterally have control. With sound IT governance, the business and IT share accountability for decisions, and IT has the means to see them through,” he says.

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