Global CIO: What CEOs Want From CIOs

Inspired leadership, customer-focused innovation, and a relentless business focus just about cover what CIOs need to bring to the table.
How many of the responsibilities listed below are among your top priorities?
  1. Create new products, and help business units do so more rapidly
  2. Create new revenue by innovative leveraging of existing applications and systems
  3. Deepen the company's engagement with customers, both old and new
  4. flow
  5. Create and enforce global standards for processes and applications
  6. Unlock new ways to find, deliver, and assess higher-value information
  7. Reverse the 80/20 glut to make those first six possible
  8. Create a massively transparent organization with all metrics focused on business value
  9. Demonstrate forceful leadership and take responsible ownership
  10. Don't align and don't whine

Don't take my word for it; most of these come from a variety of experts and not just from some hyperbloviating columnist. Consider:

• In December 2008, McKinsey released a report called "IT's Unmet Potential" that calls out the 80% sinkhole in the 80/20 equation as a huge factor in keeping that potential from becoming reality. The McKinsey report says many CEOs are eager for the CIOs to be more assertive as "thought leaders" helping to enhance the company's competitiveness, but too often the CIOs can't take advantage of that opportunity because they are consumed by maintenance battles.

• Gary Loveman, CEO at Harrah's Resorts, says he needs his CIO (IW 2007 Chief of the Year Tim Stanley) to help him conserve cash in a business that loves to consume massive amounts of capital. Loveman also wants his CIO to find ways to extend the revenue-creating potential of existing applications and systems, such as Harrah's customer-loyalty program, which started off focused exclusively on gambling but could become a platform for driving new revenue from shopping, dining, shows, and more. Oh, yes -- and Loveman very specifically wants his CIO to cut the portion of the IT budget consumed by maintenance from 60% (until fairly recently it was at 80%) to 40% or less.

• Management consultant superstar Ram Charan says that for 2009, CEOs want and need their CIOs to become very aggressive in conserving cash and gaining a deep understanding of why cash flow is so vital to businesses today. Charan goes so far as to say that CIOs should take their top leaders to an off-site retreat, take a look at their top 50 priorities, and reset that list to focus exclusively on those that can free up short-term cash flow.

Inspired Leadership
• At First National Bank of Omaha, which controls $20 billion in assets, president Rajive Johri has set a very aggressive agenda for his CIO: create a seamless set of experiences across technology platforms that customers find easy and valuable; help create new products that create more value for existing customers and/or attract new customers who otherwise would never give any business to FNBO; and become involved in exciting and delighting customers with a set of new experiences made possible by the innovation application of advanced technologies. (This information comes from our sibling publication Bank Systems & Technology.)

• Hewlett-Packard executive VP and CIO Randy Mott, who recently completed a sweeping transformation of HP's global IT infrastructure and processes that ranks as one of the top CIO achievements ever, said that CEOs want CIOs to create a global set of standard applications and processes that enable greater capabilities and higher speeds at lower costs. Mott also emphasized that CEOs in today's dynamic global economy don't necessarily need more information, but they do need better and higher-value information, and that CIOs must be able to deliver on that need.

Nobody said the CEOs want server logs or firewall dashboards or virtualization tutorials. What they want is inspired leadership, customer-focused innovation, and a relentless business focus that makes cash flow more than just some vague concept that one of the beanies from accounting is always talking about but nobody ever listens to. Perhaps these two bromides summarize the overarching nature of the stance and attitude CEOs want CIOs to take to heart:

Demonstrate forceful leadership and take responsible ownership. CEOs want CIOs to be assertive and forward-looking, not reactive and inward-looking; and yes, CEOs want their CIOs to be "thought leaders," as McKinsey posited, but I think it goes beyond that: CEOs want their CIOs to lead not only with their thoughts but also with their actions. That means a whole lot of skin in the game, that means expanded responsibilities and accountability -- and all of that means more opportunity as well, for the company and for the CIOs who can handle it.

Don't align, and don't whine. As discussed last week, the concept of "alignment" was fine for another time but it doesn't fit the highly fluid times we're in today. If you stick with the alignment thing, you're always going to be told what to do, told how to follow up, and told that it would probably make sense to flush your department and hire an outside outfit that specializes in this stuff. If that happens, don't whine -- you've given up that right.

So you tell me: What do CEOs want from CIOs? Send in your thoughts and you'll be eligible for a spectacular prize -- either $1,000,000 in cash or a swell piece of InformationWeek tchotchke, whichever I'm able to lay my hands on more quickly. Send your ideas to [email protected].

GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
or write to Bob at [email protected].

Editor's Choice
Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer