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Guest view: Rethinking the role of CIOs

Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen, senior vice president and general manager, Red Hat Asia Pacific | June 6, 2014
CIOs today are exerting more strategic influence than ever before on business decision, despite dealing with tactical demands that still consume more time and focus. Will a change in the traditional CIO title help drive business innovation?

Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen, Red Hat Asia Pacific
Photo: Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen, Red Hat Asia Pacific

In the past, IT departments worked primarily to make existing business practices more efficient and talent more productive. In recent years, computing and communications technologies have permitted enterprises to create entirely new business processes and revenue streams that simply couldn't exist without IT advances. Hence, the role of IT has emerged and transformed in a big way. And, many CIOs and other IT executives have significantly progressed in their efforts to align and coordinate their IT departments with the business units.

IT executives, in their strategic roles are helping drive business innovation and competitive differentiation. Yet, only a few of their business counterparts readily recognise them as strategy leaders or peers as everyday tactical demands continue to pull these CIOs away from the strategic functions.

A joint survey with IDG Research Services has revealed that CIOs can best drive business innovation within their companies. Findings even suggest that getting the business and IT together may take something as fundamental as rethinking, and retitling, the CIO position itself.

CIOs: In the eye of a business and technology storm
CIOs, perhaps more than any other corporate executive, face a constantly changing landscape of opportunities, threats and job demands. As IT and business interact in an ever-accelerating virtuous cycle, each decision also carries with it unique business benefits and threats. For example, the proliferation of smartphones and an increasingly mobile workforce. CIOs and their business unit peers can increase employee productivity and customer satisfaction by playing the mobile card intelligently. But the number and diversity of mobile devices, as well as the need to manage and protect them and the corporate information they contain, can provoke both budgetary and security nightmares for overburdened CIOs.

Business/IT collaboration should be 'default', and not an 'exception'
 Many IT executives are already taking steps to help identify new business opportunities within their organisation. In a measure of the business/IT dynamic, new IT projects are initiated more often by business champions approaching IT than by IT approaching business, according to the survey. Arguably, the ideal model for IT project initiation would be a collaborative process in which IT and business representatives jointly identify new projects and opportunities for innovation.

Given the tight synergies and dependencies between business and IT, organisations would be wise to ensure that a significant percentage of their IT project launches always involve a collaborative process.

Have the CIO's title and role grown stale?
The fact that, 20-plus years on, the CIO position is still often more tactical than strategic raises some tough questions. Among the most fundamental is whether the CIO position itself is in need of a makeover.

 

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