Infrastructure Strategies '06
Evolution of the IT department
The IT team has metamorphosed into a multi-skilled entity
over the years. A look at the IS survey's findings on the CIO and his team.
by Anil Patrick R
first aspect of a CIOs job that IS 2006 explored, pertained to his tenure
and experience. It was interesting to observe that a majority (79 percent) of
Indian CIOs have an experience of 10 years or less. Only 21 percent of Indian
CIOs have been a CIO for over a decade.
This is not surprising since the development of IT as an independent entity
is relatively new. As Chinar Deshpande, CIO, Pantaloon Retail (India) rightly
observes, IT started to have an independent identity only in the post-1990 timeframe.
decided to slice and dice the 10 years and below experience segment
a bit further. It was interesting to discover that a majority of these CIOs
(29 percent) have been in that post for a period of three to six years. This
is followed by 26 percent of CIOs with leadership experience between one and
three years. Six percent of CIOs have been in the post for less than a year.
Though majority of CIOs are relatively young, less experience
at the helm does not necessarily mean lack of skills. Talent counts more than
experience for most Indian organisations. Having said that, further exploration
is needed to find out these CIOs backgrounds.
Techies rule the roost
Most of todays CIOs are hard core technologists. A whopping 80 percent
of them have worked in the IT field before becoming a CIO.
Significantly, 29 percent of the CIOs have worked in administration.
Consulting comes next with 21 percent. Finance (20 percent) and engineering
(16 percent) come next as the CIOs functional domain experience areas.
But are most CIOs pure-play IT professionals? Not always,
since most organisations stress upon the need for CIOs to have cross-domain
knowledge. So the typical CIO is more likely to have a core expertise in IT
backed up by stints with other teams. However, CIOs with an IT background are
on the increase.
The CIO is the ambassador of his organisation.
That is why effective communication skills are important to become a successful
P J Jacob
Deputy General Manager
The South Indian Bank
The CIO should be aware of the business processes and
operations of his organisation. In short, he must know the ins and outs
of the entire operations as most respondents rightly pointed out.
Lack of key staff and skill retention are among the biggest
pain-points for CIOs. However, I do not subscribe to the view, lack
of time is the reason for lack of strategic thinking. For thinking
is a continuous process and shortage of time is no valid excuse.
On the work experience front, it is not the number of
years but the CIOs understanding of his organisations functioning
which counts. Thus, whether the CIO has three years of experience or 25
years, he should first be able to understand the company and its operations.
A new entrant will have problems with understanding this aspect, but a
successful CIO will know that.
Irrespective of whether the CIO is from IT or administration,
he has to be a good leader and have excellent business knowledge. He should
understand that IT is a facilitator for business growth. The banking sector
is a good example where many of the successful CIOs are actually from
When it comes to the CIOs future career path, becoming
a CEO is certainly one of the possibilities. There are many cases where
CIOs have become CEOs. A successful CIO will already have the qualities
necessary to become a CEO so he should not curb his ambitions.
The findings show that 70 percent of CIOs
believe that a successful CIO should understand business processes and operations.
I would say that if the CIO is from a large organisation, he should
have the potential to be more of a business leader who is aided by technology.
Pantaloon Retail (India)
This is essential for the CIO to be able to influence
business changes. For example, he will be able to effect process changes,
come up with new business models, envision new business avenues and so
on using technology as the backbone.
In the organisation, he can don the role of a Chief
Knowledge Officer. This will help him make a difference to aspects such
as improving the organisations culture. He can execute things like
trend identification, employee performance measurement under different
conditions, knowledge management, discussion forums and so on. The CIO
can even manage large scale projects which involve participation from
multiple teams. So the possibilities for a CIO who understands the business
I have some observations to make with regard to
the survey where 20 percent of CIOs were from backgrounds such as administration
and finance. If the CIOs age is in the 40 to 50 range, there is
a strong chance that he is from a non-IT background. This was because
pre-1990, IT was just a support function that was ranked under finance
or administration. So it was a natural progression for non-IT professionals
who used to handle IT at that time to become CIOs later.
If you take the CIOs in the 30 to 40 age group,
you will find that they are professionals with strong IT backgrounds such
as consulting and development. It is just a matter of time before the
entire CIO community consists of people with hard core IT backgrounds.
As the survey rightly points out, lack of key staff
and skill retention are a CIOs biggest problems today. That is why
I feel that it is best to go in for a combination of outsourcing and creating
a motivational environment within the IT team. It is not possible to outsource
every function, so every CIO must figure out the mix that works for his
In my opinion, the ideal combo is when 30 percent
of the jobs are performed internally and 70 percent outsourced. This will
help me pay more attention to my team as well as aid them to have a long-term
career path within the organisation. At the end of the day, it is essential
to project ourselves as the best organisation for IT professionals to
work in. Otherwise talent retention will be impossible.
While I cant comment on the general mindset,
I personally feel there is no need to restrict my ambitions of becoming
a group CIO. My function requires me to know all aspects of the business.
So I think I can evolve to become a good general manager of the business.
This is becoming possible for CIOs these days.
Take the case of organisations which spin off IT as a separate process
centre that caters to the organisations internal requirements as
well as that of other organisations.
For the CIO this involves assuming the role of
a CEO for the new business entity. He has to assume responsibility of
managing the internal resource centre and slowly moving out. That is why
I feel that there is no need for me to limit my horizons to just becoming
a group CIO.
The CIO must-haves
what are the essential skillsets for a successful CIO? Understanding business
processes and operations ranks highest with 70 percent of CIOs listing it as
Second on the essential skillsets list are effective communication skills according
to 62 percent of CIOs. Strategic thinking and planning skills come third with
54 percent of CIOs rooting for them.
The most surprising finding was that thorough knowledge of technology ranks
only fourth on the priority list with 48 percent of CIOs listing it as essential.
This is followed by technical proficiency (40 percent).
Next on the IS find out list was the reporting
relationships that CIOs follow. There has been significant progress for CIOs
on this front since 40 percent of CIOs report directly to the CEO.
The incidence of CIOs reporting directly to the CEO is highest
in the services vertical (71 percent), followed by BFSI (47 percent). 45 percent
of CIOs report directly to the CEO from the chemical & pharma and manufacturing
& engineering/auto verticals respectively.
16 percent of CIOs report to the corporate/group CIO while 12 percent report
to the CFO. Four percent of CIOs report to the COO while 23 percent report to
officials other than mentioned above.
Small is beautiful
IT teams seem to be the order of the day considering the fact that 67 percent
of organisations have a maximum of 25 employees in IT. This trend is easily
explained by the fact that outsourcing as well as extracting the maximum from
resources is the order of the day.
Larger IT teams are on the wane since only 13 percent of organisations have
IT teams with 26 to 49 personnel. Just 5 percent of organisations have IT teams
comprising 50 to 75 personnel. Two percent of organisations have teams of 76
to 100 members. Teams with higher head count than this are 5 percent for 101
to 250, 4 percent for 251 to 400, 2 percent for 401 to 500 and 2 percent for
1,000 and above.
Incidences of smaller IT teams are likely to increase over the years as outsourcing
increases. Problems such as lack of skilled manpower and high attrition will
be driving this trend.
CIOs have already started using a mix of internal teams and outsourced functions
for better infrastructure management. Total outsourcing as in the case of HDFC
Bank and Yes Bank is yet another trend which will trim down the size of enterprise
Being a CIO is not an easy task as all our respondents readily testified. According
to the results, lack of key staff and skill retention is the biggest problem
faced (49 percent).
Shortage of time is the second biggest problem thats cited by 34 percent
of CIOs. The third biggest challenge ranking is shared by inadequate budgets
and prioritising, ineffective communication with users, and overwhelming pace
of technology change (as per 27 percent of CIOs).
- Work on understanding the organisations
business processes and enhance communication with users to achieve success
as a CIO.
- User communication processes have to be in place
and followed if the CIO needs to increase his and his teams acceptance
in the organisation.
- Step out from behind the traditional techie
mindsets and start contributing to all business areas by providing new
business ideas and strategies that can be backed up using IT.
- Capitalise on your cross-domain knowledge and
strengths to start on the path to becoming a CEO.
Talking to users
with users is essential if a CIO has to be successful. This is important to
build trust levels and good working relationships with the rest of the company.
However, user communication does not seem to be high on the
CIO priority list. Only 27 percent of CIOs communicate with IT users on a weekly
basis while 13 percent communicate on a monthly basis. A mere 2 percent communicate
with users on a quarterly basis. A large percent of responses (51 percent) were
in the others category, thus indicating that there is no specific
process or frequency in place for most of India Inc. Two percent admitted that
they do not have systems in place for communication with IT users.
On the user satisfaction measurement front, 66 percent of organisations measure
it internally for employees. Four percent of organisations do it for external
entities like business partners and customers. Organisations which perform both
external and internal user satisfaction level measurements comprise 13 percent.
Fifteen percent of organisations never go for measurements.
This is a bad trend which can cause problems for CIOs in the long run. While
it is impossible to satisfy each and every user demand, the users have to be
given forums to communicate with the CIO. This can be in the form of intranet
portals or online discussion forums, poster campaigns or contests for users.
Face-to-face meetings with different teams can be conducted at specific intervals
to promote such communication.
In addition to keeping the CIO updated vis-à-vis ground realities and
user satisfaction levels, these activities will help him get to grips with operational
difficulties. In fact, many successful CIOs admit that communicating with IT
users has helped them come up with innovative strategies and solutions.
Career planning for CIOs
Where will the CIO move on to? Does he wish to be the CEO, next?
From the IS 2006 results, it is evident that most CIOs do
not harbour ambitions beyond their present role. Thirty-six percent of CIOs
want to move on to being a group CIO while another 34 percent want to continue
in the existing role.
Just 9 percent of CIOs have ambitions of becoming the CEO. This is surprising
since many a CIO has already achieved sufficient cross-functional expertise
to aim for the top job. Five percent of CIOs have dreams of becoming the next
COO and CFO respectively.
It is high time that CIOs realised their strengths and started capitalising
on them further.