Excellence through IT
Roy, Head, Information Technology, SBI Mutual Fund, believes that its
crucial for a CIO to have a vision. Backed by a group of achievers, this vision
helps lay down the foundation for a world-class organisation.
Like the rest of the top management team, a CIO should aspire to create a world-class
organisation. To do so, the CIO must have a vision that incorporates the essential
ingredients of financial success and market reputation.
To make this vision a reality, the CIO should lead the IT team aligning its
functions with those of the business. Heads of finance, human resources, marketing,
and manufacturing functions should also be involved in the formulation of the
IT strategy. The vision must evolve from managing the companys IT systems
to reengineering its business processes.
An early realisation
Although I have been the head of the IT department for over five years now,
I realised early in my career that in order to play this role one should understand
the companys business well, and be able to integrate business with technology.
That is an ideal role, and unfortunately, it doesnt happen most of the
The CIO must strive to understand business and technology equally well, so that
he or she finds it equally comfortable to talk to business leaders and technology
Caught in a rut
Today, most CIOs are caught in a rut, running the IT engine. They are busy,
either putting infrastructure in place, or managing the infrastructure. This
reduces the IT departments role to that of a support division. As a consequence,
the business heads of other departments begin to treat IT as a support function.
A paradigm shift in the CIOs attitude as well as those of other business
heads is required.
Demand for IT
The CIOs vision mandates the creation of new applications and solutions
with the help of other business units.
There has to be a balance in the CIOs role between that of a strategic
planner who innovates various business applications, and a manager of operations.
More time should be spent on the first role.
However, the ground reality is that the CIO is busy fire-fighting everyday problems,
and has to spend at least 50 percent of his time at it. Therefore, the scope
to plan, create strategies, and take business-focussed initiatives is limited.
Business vs IT
In my experience, there are several instances of conflicts between business
and IT. Whenever IT initiates and takes up a project, business departments construe
it as an IT project and decline to be involved leaving the ownership
solely with IT.
In any successful organisation, however, business and IT work jointly. The ownership
rests with both. CEOs should guide business leaders, and CIOs should look for
business heads involvement to succeed.
If the business side is not involved, users will complain about the lack of
features in solutions at a later stage. This may lead to a blame game. The business
input is critical throughout the entire lifecycle including planning and deployment.
The evolving business
Although its an old adage that, IT and business should be perfectly
aligned, people still make mistakes. The CIO should talk to the CEO about
evolving business plans. This will help in a competitive environment where user
demands of both internal and external entities (customers, suppliers) are complex
and require proactive behaviour.
Its important to look at avenues to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
After all, the CIO is in the best position to introduce business process reengineering.
The CIOs leadership qualities should be able to garner attention from
the CEO and others in the top management.
The CIO should have good interpersonal and communication
skills to be able to balance in such a 'tightrope' situation. These soft
skills are lacking in many of todays CIOs
When a person steps into the larger role of the CIO, he or she aspires to become
a leader in the business side as well. Business leaders may feel threatened
that someone else is trying to enter into their domain. So, the
CIO should have good interpersonal and communication skills to be able to balance
in such a tightrope situation. These soft skills are lacking in
many of todays CIOs.
Sometimes business users come up with a lot of technology solutions to improve
their business processes. In such a case, the CIO should not feel threatened
about losing turf. The CIO should avoid any conflict and be able to appreciate
new ideas with the help of
appropriate interpersonal skills.
A good way will be to initiate suggestions for IT solutions from the business
leaders. Since they understand the operations best and will be the bigger users
of IT, their involvement will provide a lot of value.
The visionary leader
To be a true visionary, the CIO should be able to measure the value provided
by IT investments. Most companies do not know how to measure the value of IT
investments, and since the business does not measure it as well, it may be viewed
as a sunk investment.
The CIO should be savvy in the financial aspects to calculate benefits to business.
This will help business leaders view the CIOs role in a different context.
CIOs should be able to track the financial and non-financial benefits that IT
investments deliver. They can use a few qualitative measurement metrics such
as opportunity cost savings, and process improvements.
The expenditure on IT investments specific to a particular area of business
can also be clubbed with the cost of that particular business unit. Since every
business has a certain cost factor for set-up and operations, the value of IT
is justified by the business returns produced by that business unit.
As told to Soutiman Das Gupta