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This Month In Optimize: Mastering Major-League Change

I believe there are two types of CIOs. There are the hard workers who have an incredible command of technology and are admired by their staffs as IT visionaries. And then there are those who will survive.

A CIO's survival requires intuitive financial acumen and a strong, analytical understanding of business processes, in addition to technology expertise and vision. The reason this skill set is so important is the incredible pace of change we're experiencing in our day-to-day business.

CEOs want you to give them insight into how to improve operations. Therefore, I don't think it's effective for CIOs to move from company to company, and certainly not from industry to industry, as was frequently done in the past. A "major CIO"--one who's making an impact on his or her company as opposed to one who's merely excellent at applying technology--is someone who lasts a long time in a business and understands it.

Where does the CIO education process come from? First, as I said, you have to spend time in an industry. Second, you have to absorb the business acumen through constant integration with your business counterparts over a long period of time. And third, I believe an MBA or an on-the-job equivalent is meaningful.

It's important to understand that you don't have just one boss as a CIO, though your organizational chart may say so. In essence, you report to every senior executive in your company. Talk regularly to them, understand their needs, suggest improvements, and make them all feel like they're your boss.

So, how well can you represent your company to an outside business audience? Your answer will say a lot about the real value you offer your company. When I'm talking to outsiders, I talk about great cars, market-share growth, globalization, and profitability. Then I might talk about technology.

CIOs who feel they need their CEOs or some other business executives present to assist them when talking about business send a message of weakness about the IT industry as a whole. That has to change, or else the CIO role won't be elevated to the position it should be--a place where many "major CIOs" are already.

Ralph Szygenda is CIO and group VP at General Motors Corp. His column appears in Optimize. To read the full text of this column, go to

Also In Optimize:

Get Down To Business
CIO Ed Kamins describes steps he's taking at Avnet, a $10 billion-a-year global technology-distribution company, to manage change. He's creating a business-oriented IT organization that delivers greater ROI on its technology implementations. Some of the ROI to date: closing 83 bank accounts across Europe, consolidating $100 million in cash with a corresponding sum in debt, and reducing interest expenses by some $2 million a year. The key, he says: Think strategically and set priorities accordingly.

Marketing Manifesto
Marketing master Sergio Zyman tells CIOs to create a marketing manifesto in order to set a course for change. To fix problems, he recommends CIOs examine market position, customer-satisfaction levels, and corporate processes.

How To Sync Up Your Outsourcing Efforts
Are your outsourcing initiatives in sync? Maybe not, says Jane Linder, executive research fellow at the Accenture Institute for High-Performance Business. While companies are using outsourcing to effect major change, they often encounter surprises. Linder says managers can avoid the unexpected by aligning their company's process styles with those of the outsourcing provider.

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