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The Future CIO

25 Years Of InformationWeekCIOs are under more pressure than ever. The job is incredibly challenging. Despite recent arguments to the contrary, we believe information technology is at the heart of corporate strategy. IT must deliver more systems faster and operate them in a fail-safe environment. Being successful as a CIO requires an unusual combination of technical know-how, business acumen, and organizational leadership skills. It's a job with a sometimes short life cycle, and it takes a seemingly superhuman to do it effectively. -- The Evolving Role Of The CIO, by the Concours Group

Why does this characterization sound so familiar? Partly, we suspect, because you've heard it before-and continue to hear it over and over. Observers have been spouting generalizations and hyperbole about the challenges of IT management for well over 30 years, or as long as the job has existed. The job certainly is difficult, and many otherwise capable managers have foundered in the role of CIO. The questions we want to address in this article are how the job really has changed, and what it takes to survive and even succeed as a CIO today. Our conclusion is that, spurred in large part by the business implications and opportunities of information technology, the CIO job has become much more complex and more business critical than ever. This is a mixed blessing. CIOs who fail to understand the new reality may find themselves both overpromising and underdelivering. They may well be setting themselves up for high-profile failure.

Successful CIOs today are far more than IT strategists and functional managers. They see themselves as business strategists and change agents. In most large companies, the CIO is expected to play a strong leadership role-and not just about technology architectures and capabilities. They're actively involved in exploring new business opportunities, in advising line managers on how to launch IT-dependent business ventures, and in defining priorities for fundamental organizational transformation. Most businesses simply can't succeed without a strong IT function. The stakes for CIOs and their organizations couldn't be higher.

The "New" CIO Role
Our research and conversations with dozens of CIOs and business executives has confirmed that the successful CIO today in most large companies is a different creature than even five years ago. Here are a few of our findings:

Exhibit 0

Exhibit 0
(click image for larger view)

  • The business and technology contexts surrounding the CIO are substantially different than ever before. The job has become far more complex at the same time that the critical nature of information systems has gone up by an order of magnitude in virtually every business. To compound matters, there's an unprecedented urgency to develop and implement IT capabilities-an urgency that often flies in the face of what has traditionally constituted good IT management practice (see exhibit 0).
  • CIOs are struggling to manage this complexity, and meet the expectations of their bosses, peers, and subordinates. Life in this fast track may be exciting, but it can also be stressful and lonely (see charts 2 and 3).
  • Exhibit 2

    Exhibit 3

    Exhibit 2
    (click image for larger view)

    Exhibit 3
    (click image for larger view)

  • Too many CIOs continue to spend most of their time with their internal staff. They spend very little time interacting with outside customers, in spite of the growing importance of IT in supporting customer information and interorganizational processes (see exhibit 4).

  • Exhibit 4

    Exhibit 4
    (click image for larger view)

  • IT organizations are facing enormous pressure to accelerate the delivery of services. Virtually every other functional area in business has become significantly more dependent on IT. And the Internet and the new business models it has spawned have created a widespread expectation that information systems can be developed and implemented very quickly.
  • While some industry analysts have been heralding the "demise of the CIO," we believe exactly the opposite is true. The CIO role has indeed become more complex, and the full gamut of CIO responsibilities may need to be shared by several individuals. But our research suggests that the CIO's strategic importance is greater than ever.
  • CIOs see themselves playing five primary roles: business strategist, IT strategist, IT functional leader, technology advocate, and change agent. This configuration is new and represents a significant shift in emphasis from the past. Indeed, the best role model for a CIO may be the CEO, who must balance a wide variety of priorities and influence a very diverse group of managers and specialists to achieve tangible outcomes.
  • Unlike many other functionally focused managers, successful CIOs operate as true general managers and senior business executives. They often have a varied career history that includes graduate-level education in business and management, significant periods of time working outside IT, and-surprisingly-they often have substantial experience managing overseas operations.
  • There's no simple or single job description of the CIO role. We've identified four distinctively different CIO job types: corporate CIO for operations, corporate CIO for functional leadership, business unit CIO, and regional CIO. But even within those categories there are major variations from one company to another in job requirements, business priorities, and organizational challenges.
  • We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
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