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Issue of August 2004 
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CIO Strategies: Tackling The Hurdles

For a few hours more…

When CIOs have less time to focus on the business side, they need to delegate, set up strategic planning teams, and put in a few extra hours at work. Here's how they cope. by Brian Pereira

The role of the modern day CIO is quite different from the IS Manager of yesteryear. The significance of IT has increased since it has progressed from being just a support function to a business enabler. The key word here is 'business' and we mean top- and bottom-line growth, strategies for using IT to drive new business initiatives, and staying ahead of the competition. This is certainly a challenge for an individual who has ascended the ranks from 'techie' to business manager. Do CIOs get enough time for strategic thinking? If not, how do they make time for it?

In the Network Magazine survey of 250 CIOs across India, it was found that 34 percent did not get enough time for strategic thinking.

Because of the diverse and numerous activities, the requirement on a CIO's time and effort do not follow a pattern. There are intense periods of activity, when major projects are conceived and executed as part of the Company's new objectives and growth plans. These activities last for months. After that there could be slack periods during which there are routine matters to tend to.

In such a scenario it is quite difficult for a CIO to make sufficient time for strategic thinking, especially during periods of intense activity.

A lack of time to focus on the business side can affect the performance of the CIO. So most have devised strategies to tackle this issue.

Monday mornings at work begin early for Arindham Bose, Head-IT, LG Electronics India Pvt. Ltd. (LGIL). He comes in at 7:30 a.m. to plan for the rest of the week. Bose would not like the lack of time to affect his performance, so he is willing to put in a few extra hours.

"The only way to cope with periods of intense activity is to set up a Strategy Planning Team within the IT department. This team can come up with the required plans and schedules, so that the CIO's time and effort in this direction are reduced," says S. Mukherji, Director-IT (O), Air-India.

Another strategy is task delegation and empowerment, after identifying ad hoc and routine tasks. V. K. Ramani, President (Information Technology), UTI Bank says, "As I have delegated several activities to other IT functionaries, my role is confined to strategic issues, planning and resource allocation, manpower and HR. My focus areas include meeting business clients, and departmental heads, and keeping abreast of IT industry trends. Senior IT staff are encouraged to take over more managerial responsibilities by empowering them to make decisions."

CIOs also need to master the art of time management and how to prioritize tasks. It's all about the ability to distinguish between 'important' and 'urgent.'

Making time

We got different answers when we asked CIOs how much time they set aside in a day or week to understand the business. Some said they didn't have fixed hours for this and do it spontaneously, while others try to follow a routine.

L. Sundarrajan, Sr. Vice President, Corporate Information Technology, Aditya Birla Group opines, "I think a CIO should devote 35 - 40 percent of his time understanding the business. Another 15 - 20 percent on reading about competitors, and the balance on updating himself on what's happening on the technology side, in his line of business. This could be achieved through discussions with CIO's of similar companies, brainstorming with colleagues, and by sourcing information from books, websites, research reports etc."

In the pursuit for information, there is a possibility that one could end up with too much or irrelevant material. Everything needs to be in the context of one's business. The challenge here is to apply knowledge and theoretical concepts to one's business.

As the CIO puts on the 'business strategist' hat he may find less time to keep abreast with technology developments. However, due to the nature ofhis job, this he must not neglect.

One way to cope is to have a separate research team. At Goodlass Nerolac Paints for instance, there is a cell that tracks various technologies and feeds this information into a database. The CIO or top management periodically reviews this database and decides on new initiatives.

The business side

When the CIO has made time to focus on business issues, he spends that time in various ways.

Mani B. Mulki, General Manager (Information Systems), Godrej Industries Ltd, says the IT managers in his organization attend operational meetings like sales and operational plan (a monthly meeting). He involves himself in the SBU (strategic business unit) meetings.

Besides attending meetings and conferring with the CEO and others in top management, some time should be spent studying company financial reports, though at the macro level.

When the CIO has made time to focus on business issues, he spends that time in various ways. The key thing is to get more involved in the business. That means attending strategic business meetings, board meetings, interacting with business heads, conferring with the CEO and other top management executives, and studying reports, and business policies. Besides all this, a CIO has to also keep abreast of technology developments and other significant events in his industry. This entails participation in seminars and discussion panels.

Since the CIO's role has changed from pure 'techie' to business strategist, there is a lot of learning to be done. That knowledge comes from training sessions and resources like books and websites.

Mani B. Mulki, General Manager (Information Systems), Godrej Industries Ltd, says the IT managers in his organization attend operational meetings like sales and operational plan (a monthly meeting). He involves himself in the SBU (strategic business unit) meetings.

Besides attending meetings and conferring with the CEO and others in top management, some time should be spent studying company financial reports, though at the macro level.

Brian Pereira can be reached at brianp@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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