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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?

Perhaps the history of the CIO position, and the established assumptions about this role in many organisations, can be overcome only by retiring the CIO title and creating a new executive position. Most of the CXO-level positions—CEO, CFO and COO—carry with them commonly understood responsibilities and powers. The CIO's position, by comparison, has been something of a cipher at this executive level, with roles and responsibilities that vary considerably across organisations and with tactical demands that often overshadow more-strategic functions.

Yet, CIOs achieving real traction have learned to delegate keep-the-lights-on activities to direct reports and to operate as full-fledged businesspeople.
In the end, whether the title remains 'chief information officer' or becomes a more business-centric moniker, the existing CIO job position must continue to break free from its IT-centric focus. Organisations that continue to organisationally and conceptually isolate the two will fall behind competitors that treat IT and business as merely different sides of the same coin.

The time for incremental progress is long gone
Given the imperative to establish IT executives as full strategic partners, companies can't afford to keep "discovering" the need to build stronger bonds between the IT department and business units. No doubt, organisational change is difficult, as should be evident to anyone who has attempted to shift the balance in IT work from mostly tactical to mostly strategic. The time to start realising that shift is now for any company hoping to achieve competitive differentiation.

Therefore, in relation to whether a change in the traditional CIO title can help drive business innovation, a few technological advances can definitely help IT jettison onerous and time-consuming tactical activities. A transfer of some internal IT operations to third-party cloud providers, for example, can lessen deployment and maintenance burdens, and the automation of manual IT processes can permit more time for strategic explorations and planning.

To fully take advantage of these and other opportunities, however, CIOs—and the organisations for which they work—must completely commit to delivering on a vision of IT/business integration that is now close to 30 years old. There needs to be institutional recognition at every level of an organisation of the strategic value of IT. For their part, CIOs and other top IT executives must finally become both business leaders and technology leaders, since there is now barely any difference between the two.

Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen is senior vice president and general manager of Red Hat Asia Pacific


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