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IT Leadership // CIO Insights & Innovation
Commentary
11/19/2007
07:15 PM
John Soat
John Soat
Commentary
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Tomorrow's CIO

In writing my feature story about "The Evolving CIO," I interviewed M.S. Krishnan, professor of business information technology at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. Here are some notes from that conversation on how CIOs can step up to the next level: of their careers,

In writing my feature story about "The Evolving CIO," I interviewed M.S. Krishnan, professor of business information technology at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. Here are some notes from that conversation on how CIOs can step up to the next level: of their careers, and of what their organizations are increasingly expecting of them."Alignment is not going to work," says Krishnan.

Say what? Hasn't business-IT alignment been the prime directive of every CIO since the moniker was invented? Yes, except that the results of the most recent survey by the Society for Information Management of CIOs and senior IT executives found that the No. 1 item in the survey's list of Top IT Management Concerns was "attracting, developing, and retaining IT professionals," knocking "IT and business alignment" out of the top spot for the first time in four years and suggesting business-IT alignment is losing steam as a CIO imperative.

For Krishnan, alignment isn't enough. "Alignment is one-sided, " he says, more closely associated with order taking than innovating. Order taking is the traditional role of the IT department, and by extension the CIO. Krishnan prefers to use the word "synchronization:" business and IT must be synchronized in what they're trying to accomplish and how they're going to go about doing it.

First, CIOs have to be forward-looking about technology. How many CIOs have experimental labs inside their offices, for example, to examine new technologies and think how they can be applied to better serve their companies' customers? Not something like VMware and virtualization, which address "how much hardware cost can we cut down next year?" That's very important, he says, but not as important as experiments that address the question of "how do you use this technology to alter the business model, to add value?" Here he's talking about technologies like RFID or wireless that can significantly impact a company's business processes.

Second, CIOs have to be proactive in taking responsibility for the business processes they oversee every day. For example, companies are going to increasingly leverage global resources, tapping into the competencies available around the world. And this goes beyond the IT function. Given the widespread use of offshore outsourcing over the last 10 years, who in most organizations has the deepest knowledge of and experience working with global companies? And how can CIOs leverage that knowledge and experience? What if, for example, the CIO office sponsored workshops across the company on how to manage global relationships?

These are examples of how today's technology manager can become tomorrow's proactive, forward-looking, innovation-oriented CIO. It's a different role for CIOs, Krishnan admits, but a necessary one to stay relevant to the demands of modern-day business. It's a role CIOs need to embrace, otherwise they will be "marginalized," he says. If they don't embrace it, Krishnan says, "it's their loss."

Do you have examples of how today's IT manager can become tomorrow's CIO? Let us know.

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