Good news and bad news for CIOs…and a challenge for CEOs

man_directionsThat’s the message for CIOs from the recently published 2012 Gartner CEO and Senior Business Executive Survey.

First the good news: despite the uncertain economic environment, (85% of the CEOs questioned by Gartner believe their enterprises will be impacted by an economic downturn in 2012) over two-thirds of CEOs said that they will increase IT investment in 2012, rather than reducing their IT spend.

Commenting on this finding Jorge Lopez, a vice president at Gartner, noted that the “intention to invest in technology is comparatively healthy. The newer trends, such as mobile and cloud, are rising to the foreground of CEO’s attention. However, CRM remains CEOs’ favourite IT capability because marketing is a never-ending competitive quest for customer retention.”

So IT budgets are not being cut this year, which is clearly good news for CIOs. More importantly, the intention to actually increase IT expenditure appears to signal that CEOs understand that investing in technology can actually help their organisations succeed in the challenging market conditions. This should place CIOs in a good position to increase their influence, profile and contribution to the business over the coming months. Shouldn’t it?

But now the bad news: most CEOs still regard their CIOs as “itinerant specialists”, which basically means they think CIOs move between companies and industries but remain within the technology field. CIOs were rarely mentioned as being strategic advisers to CEOs (CFOs were cited most). And most CEOs thought the best next step for their CIOs would be to do the same job in either the same or a different industry, with few believing that the CIO would move on to a business leadership role. So in other words CEOs believe that CIOs are, and always will be, techies who have little to add at a strategic level or in the wider business.

As a CIO myself, the negative messages coming from the Gartner survey are pretty worrying and, not surprisingly, I do not agree with the CEOs’ view of the CIO role. The modern CIO is far from being just a technical specialist. To be a successful CIO in today’s world takes a lot more than technical knowledge; driving change, influencing and managing stakeholders, managing vendors, leadership and innovation are all key strengths of the modern CIO. And the best CIOs are both visionary and strategic. If you are a CEO and you don’t think your CIO has these skills then perhaps the real issue is whether you have the right person as your CIO. But if you are a CEO and you don’t think your CIO needs these skills then please read on…

Technology is fundamental to business. It can provide competitive advantage, create new markets, enable new products and services and transform business models. It can be disruptive to markets; if you are ahead of the competition in using technology then you will grow your business but if others get there first you could be left trailing in their wake. Your CIO understands technology, what it can do and how to make it work. They also have an end-to-end view of the organisation that gives them a unique understanding of the people, process and technology issues spanning your full business lifecycle. That’s quite a combination, if used correctly.

So my challenge to CEOs is to take a step back and have another look at the CIO role and whether you are using it correctly. Have you given your CIO the right remit? Are you constraining them and what they are able to do? Are you encouraging your CIO to contribute to strategy and drive transformation?

If you have the right CIO and you have defined their role correctly then your CIO will be playing a leading role in defining and executing your business strategy. And your business will stand a much better chance of succeeding as a result.

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