The evolving role of the CIO
From the wire-room to the boardroom
A CIO of a mature organization of today has shed the so-called
'strictly techie' status to step into a leadership role in business strategy
planning. A look at the transition, skills, and strategies for acceptance of
a CIO in his/her new 'avatar'. by Minu Sirsalewala
||The CIO cannot be isolated and stay locked in a technology
greenhouse. He needs to participate in business discussions to bring out
areas of smart automation that enhances the business productivity C.N. Ram,
Head-Information Technology, HDFC Bank
Information Technology today plays a far greater role in driving a company's
business agenda than it did a few years ago. IT's role now, is to envision business
opportunities and initiate solutions with the help of technology.
The CIO has evolved from playing a support function role in the wired room into
that of a business strategy maker in a boardroom. And the technology manager/CIO,
keen to contribute to the company's bottom line, has devised ways to use technology
to transform the way a company does business. This has resulted in an expected
change in a CIO's job role. The move has been helped by the interaction of the
CIO with business heads across various functional areas of an organization.
This has provided him/her extensive understanding of all areas of the business.
The CIO of today has shed the so-called 'strictly techie' status, partnered
with the CEO and other executive peers, and now drives business with the strategic
use of IT.
"CIOs at smart enterprises will become 'Chief Innovation Officers,' and
will use technology to change how business is done, or create new high-value
products and services." These are the words of a visionary D B Phatak,
Subrao Nilekani, Chair & Head, Kanwal Rekhi School of Information Technology,
IIT Bombay. He was delivering a talk at the Technology Senate 2003, in Kochi
on 'The evolving role of a CIO'. The Technology Senate is an annual event hosted
by Network Magazine, and is the most attended and revered conference for CIOs
||The CIO might witness some resistance towards acceptance
in the boardroom in case the board has only seen the 'technical' side of
his personality Arun O. Gupta, Senior Director Business Technology, Pfizer
The CIO of a mature organization today is expected to don a new role of a 'business
strategist'. He/she is expected to take a keen interest in the way the business
is run and deliver in terms of meeting the strategic goals of the company. This
perceived need for business transformation demands CIOs who are ready to step
into a leadership role in business strategy planning.
Becoming a business strategist is perhaps a Darwinian process of evolution
for C.N. Ram, Head-Information Technology, at HDFC Bank. He says that it is
not possible for the CIO to be isolated from these trends and stay locked in
a technology greenhouse. The CIO needs to participate in business discussions
to bring out areas of smart automation that enhances customer stickiness and
raises employee productivity.
The CIO then needs to make suggestions about how to get into newer customer
segments and leverage investments in technology. Therefore the CIO needs to
understand businesses and business processes.
Arun O. Gupta, Senior Director Business Technology, Pfizer points out that it
is recognized that IT is all-pervasive and its adoption provides benefits to
the organization by bringing visibility to various processes and operations.
The CIO is the prime driver of this change and is the one to manage effective
adoption and use of IT enabled systems. The CIO also needs to be a part of the
creation of business strategy.
Across business functions
"Today the CIO needs to have all the skills of a senior manager and understand
business processes of different departments. This is because a business transaction
in one operational area has an implication in another area too," explains
S.R. Balasubramanian, Vice President-Information Systems, Hero Honda Motors
Limited. The necessary job skills for a CIO now match those of other executives.
CIOs now need to practise effective communication, strategic thinking and planning,
and good comprehension of business processes and operations.
Most CIOs feel that acceptance and communication are the major challenge areas.
The majority of CIOs report to their CEO (as they've long argued they should)
and have cemented strong working relationships with other functional heads.
But the CIO's walk from the wired room to the boardroom has not been smooth
and easy. Nihar Rao, Chief Technology Officer, OM Kotak Mahindra Life Insurance,
opines that very often the transition is desired and driven by the personality
and the background of the CIO.
An important concern for many CIOs today is to be a part of the CEO's agenda.
Balasubramanian of Hero Honda expresses the need for more interaction between
the CEO and the CIO. He being the VP-IT had to drive an aggressive initiative
to involve the company's executive board in evolving and monitoring the IS plans
of the organization. Though the managing committee was receptive to the idea,
he had to constantly drive forward the IT initiatives in line with the strategic
goals of the organization with the help of the CEO.
Acceptance is an issue pointed out by several CIOs. C.N. Ram of HDFC Bank mentions
that acceptance from both peers and senior management is a problem area. But
once the issue is resolved, all that the CIO needs to do is go ahead with his/her
He added that along with various other functions in an organization, the CIO's
role is also evolving. And only a few organizations will allow the process to
Sanjay Govil, Director & Chief Information Officer, Eicher Group says, "The
existing mindsets in organizations need to change. The CIO needs to learn about
areas like marketing and effectively communicate how IT is not just a support
factor but a business enabler."
Reinforcing this point is Arun Gupta of Pfizer. "One might witness some
resistance towards acceptance in the boardroom in case the board has only seen
the 'technical' side of the CIO's personality. The CIO needs to drop the 'technical'
hat and put on a 'business' hat."
A CIO's responsibility was pointed out by Nihar Rao of OM Kotak. He feels that
a CIO needs to develop a cross-functional interface for catering to the peers
and the senior management.
The pivotal skill
identified by the veterans for success as a CIO is the ability to communicate
effectively. The top three skills that a CIO needs in order to perform effectively
in an organization have been identified as, communication, understanding business
processes and operations, and strategic thinking and planning.
Brad Boston, Senior Vice President and CIO, Cisco Systems, Inc. says, "IT
has evolved to become an integral part of the business and this evolution has
required us to change our thinking and how we interact with our peers in the
company. To make a successful transition the CIO must be able to clearly communicate
the value that IT brings to the company."
Communication is critical in working with business counterparts to learn and
understand different business needs. Once a CIO possesses this skill, there
are few other skills he/she will need to make an effective and efficient transition.
Brad Boston says that the CIO must be able to communicate how the tools being
deployed in the business will affect the bottomline. Understanding the macro-processes
that drive the business like the market-to-sell, quote-to-cash, and forecast-to-delivery
are critical to making sound technology decisions that will impact every part
of the business and the customer experience.
of Hero Honda says, "Effective communication is the most important skill
since there needs to be a detailed understanding of the business which must
be communicated to the senior management and the department members. If CIOs
can't communicate, their projects will die, either at the approval stage when
the executive committee rejects them, or at the implementation stage when users
Translating technical information for users, peers and superiors who don't understand
IT also constitutes a major part of the CIO's job. It is advisable to spend
as much time as possible talking about technology to people in the different
departments of your company in the language they understand.
Arun O. Gupta of Pfizer insists that he has not spoken one word of 'technology'
in his organization. The trick was to talk technology but in the users' language.
At the same time it was imperative to explain the limitations of technology
or it would result in unrealistic expectations from end users and fellow executives.
He added that the skills required are not different from what the users currently
possess. It's the application of these skills that has to change.
Need to understand
CIOs need to understand their businesses on two levels. One related to general
business and industry trends, and two related to company knowledge.
Every CIO needs:
- To understand the industry segment in which they operate
- The tools required to successfully manage their function
- To drive the team towards delivering the objectives
- To challenge status quo and create opportunities for change
- To drive growth and manage investments
Minu Sirsalewala can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
| V.V.R Babu, Chief Information Officer, ITC Limited
In a nutshell,
the CIO would need to have an understanding of business processes and
associated problems to lead his team in mapping the business process to
the functionality offered by the IT solution. The CIO would also have
to create a buy-in for the idea/concept to the senior business managers.
Finally, the CIO would need to lead his team for effective deployment
to realise the business goals.
As the CIO becomes a business strategist, his responsibilities are likely
to be the following:
- To understand the challenges facing the company and participate in
the strategic planning discussions to formulate/develop IT Strategies
that help the business managers in restructuring the business model
through the use of IT.
- Solve specific business issues/problems faced by the organisation.
- Effectively align business strategies/goals with IT capabilities
to create achievable IT initiatives and a plan for implementation.
- Assess sourcing options, organizational readiness and IS functions'
capabilities to make informed decisions for staffing and implementing
- Continuously evaluate the gaps between dynamic business needs and
IT offerings and initiate actions to prevent any negative impact on
- Develop appropriate strategies for managing and motivating IS resources
to achieve organisational objectives.
The key challenges in the transition are:
- The ability to quickly gain the understanding of company's business
model and the business problems that are impacting or likely to impact
it's competitive position.
- Creation of awareness about the power of IT and it's strategic advantages
to the business among the board members.
- Proactively developing a business aligned IT strategy.
- Effective communication with business managers at all levels for
creating an environment of comfort and confidence in the team.
- Setting the right expectation levels.
- Effective management of manpower attrition to minimise its impact
on IT services/initiatives
Skills required to be a successful strategist are:
- Ability to comprehend the business model, particularly to understand
how the business is attempting to create superior value for the customer/consumer.
- Insights into how the various business processes combine and synergize
to create the superior value business model.
- Capability to think through a technology model which can impact cutting
edge differentiation to the business model.
- Extraordinary ability to lead high competency teams, synergize their
knowledge and help them to learn to think in terms of business processes
and business modelling.