Software // Information Management
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7/21/2008
11:00 AM
Rajan Chandras
Rajan Chandras
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CIOs Are Not Business Leaders

We read all the time that in order to succeed, CIO's should be business leaders. But the fact is, leading the business is not the CIO's business. Yet that's not bad news... in fact, it actually makes the CIO more influential.

That's right. We read this all the time: In order to succeed, CIO's should be business leaders. But the fact is, leading the business is not the CIO's business. Yet that's not bad news... in fact, it actually makes the CIO more influential.

The fact is, heads of Marketing, Operations, Procurement etc. lead the business. The head of IT does not, by definition, lead the business. And this is true even the business is information or technology. For example, the CIOs of CA, Forrester, Gartner, Google and Microsoft - to name just a few information/technology providers - do not lead their businesses; their counterparts in sales & marketing and operations do. (Interestingly, the CTO for an information technology firm is much closer to being a business leader, because the CTO owns or advises the product strategy.)But does that belittle the CIO? Far from it. Though CIO's do not lead the business, they do lead something just as important: business enablement. Business and IT are inseparable today: no business would even get off the ground without a solid underpinning of IT, in operations as well as strategy. The CIO quite literally carries business leaders on her palm; not just one or two of these business leaders, but all of them... and therein lies the true power of the CIO, for she is the only company leader (different from "business leader") that has deep insight into all of the company's operational and supporting functions. And that, in turn, positions the CIO uniquely for succeeding as a CEO.

There lies the CIO's upward career path: executive responsibilities for not just information technology, but for the entire enterprise. The reason that few CIO's have yet to accomplish this is lack of aggressiveness. A CIO in reactive mode will remain in the business of business enablement: the Jeeves, if you will, to the business leaders' Bertie Wooster.

The CIO must learn to drive business initiatives, not wait to assist with them. Find the supply chain suffering for want of product identification technologies like RFID? Open up an executive dialog on the matter. Find a profusion of systems hampering standardization in operations? Drive the initiative for operational standardization that goes beyond systems. No other executive has the enterprisewide view that the CIO does, so seize the opportunity fully. If, in the process, you find yourself in positions where you are telling these business leaders their business, that's a good sign - it's the path that leads to the CEO position.

As the wise Jeeves once said, "One cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs."We read all the time that in order to succeed, CIO's should be business leaders. But the fact is, leading the business is not the CIO's business. Yet that's not bad news... in fact, it actually makes the CIO more influential.

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