You Say You Want A CIO Revolution?

<i>Global CIO</i>'s Bob Evans recently said it's time for a CIO revolution. But the former CIO of the U.S. Postal Service says different CIOs must pursue different objectives, and offers three role models for CIOs to evaluate.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

August 26, 2009

3 Min Read

- Is IT considered an inhibitor or an enabler of new business strategies? A handful of companies use the adaptability and visibility provided by IT to their competitive advantage. For most organizations, the opposite is true. How can you reach this pinnacle? Measure your IT organization in terms of the effort required to on-board a partner or customer, deliver a new report or update a process, and vow to reduce this effort by a significant amount over the coming year. The end goal should be to remove IT as much as possible from this equation so that end-users can fully provision their own requirements.

- Does IT follow defined processes or operate ad hoc? In today's highly regulated, just-in-time environment, no organization can succeed without clearly defined planning processes or well-established governance. This is particularly true for IT. Furthermore, this level of rigor is fundamental to sustainable process improvement.

The message here? Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. While each of these examples evaluates IT, their implications for the health of the business are huge. As Bob suggests, CIOs should seek new ways to contribute to business strategy. However, this shouldn't be done at the expense of IT performance as this is too critical to ignore.

Ultimately, most CIOs recognize that IT can't stand pat for long. Expectations and demands grow daily as do costs. Continual improvement and ongoing vigilance is needed to stay ahead of the curve. Master this challenge and you are well on your way to being a great CIO.

With this in mind, let me propose three potential role models for the future CIO:

- The Operations Leader: With IT touching nearly every aspect of the enterprise, a strong and effective CIO is required to keep it operating efficiently and effectively. This scenario is the reality for many CIOs, where the CEO or CFO expects this to be their primary focus. This role is ideal for CIOs who are strong managers, are operationally focused and detailed-oriented, and seek to control career risk. And while this role may sound like a given, the 40% failure rate cited earlier indicates that exceptional leadership and strong execution are required to deliver outstanding performance 24x7.

- The Chief Process Officer: In an effort to have a bigger impact on their organization's performance, some CIOs are embracing a more process-centric perspective. In this context, they utilize both IT and domain knowledge to proactively determine how technology can be used to improve operational performance. This hybrid role—fully joining the executive team while still managing IT operations—is the goal for many. By accepting additional risk and responsibilities, they can increase compensation, influence and career satisfaction.

- The Chief Transformation Officer: Instead of settling for incremental improvements like the Chief Process Officer, the transformer seeks game-changing disruptions to the status quo. Reporting directly to the CEO, they use a strategic understanding of both technology and the organization to implement long-lasting, structural changes, such as outsourcing complete processes or divesting business divisions. Risks and rewards grow significantly with a clear path to the CEO role being one potential outcome. However, success is highly dependent on the performance of IT, over which they have increasingly limited control.

Which role is right for you? In addition to your personal goals and interests, a number of organizational factors—industry, business strategy and corporate objective—will influence this decision. What's important to recognize is that the model CIO isn't a one-size-fits-all equation. And the best way to control your own fate is to continue to deliver upon the IT metrics that CIOs have long been measured upon while creating and shaping the future metrics.

Robert L. Otto is executive VP, Advisory Services, at Agilex Technologies Inc., and was CIO and CTO of the U.S. Postal Service from 2001 through 2007.

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