Business-savvy CIOs important to drive change

CIOs play important role in driving change within organization, however, they need to align technology change with business goals, say industry watchers.

With technology now an integral part of most organizations, CIOs today play a vital role in driving business change through IT. To effect a lasting change, though, these IT executives will have to be good communicators, have experience in management outside of IT, as well as garner support within the company, note market observers.

Katy Ring, director at U.K.-based analyst firm K2 Advisory, noted that many organizations say they need to innovate to survive and flourish in the current economic climate. Since technology is now integral to the business, and with the fast pace of change in this industry, CIOs must be an important member of the transformation team, she said.

"However, understanding technology is just one skill. Understanding how to use it to transform operations and offerings in a commercial context, is another," Ring said.

As such, CIOs who can do both are catalysts for change in their organizations but they cannot, and should not, act alone. Instead, she urged these IT leaders to share responsibility with other stakeholders for change management.

Ho Wah Lee, head of advisory at KPMG Singapore, said the majority of CIOs are appointed because of their technical competence. However, he noted that many successful IT heads in large organizations such as financial institutions and multinational companies (MNCs) possess not only a good understanding of technologies, but also have good business sense.

With knowledge of both technological developments and business operations, these CIOs are in a good position to help organizations by implementing timely, much-needed changes to a company's IT system, Ho said. This is especially true with the rapid advent of new technologies such as cloud computing and mobile technologies, he added.

Lionel Lim, Asia-Pacific president of CA Technologies, agreed. "Today, the new CIO has ambitions beyond managing the IT infrastructure of a company," he said. "Not only do CIOs need to optimize technology planning in the context of the business, they have to move from simply managing and maintaining IT to delivering on business goals."

Nick Kirkland, chief executive of CIO Connect, reiterated the need for changes initiated by CIOs to be aligned with the company's business needs. If a company is trying to change, the CIO needs to know how the business wants to change and how technology is able to help make the transition.

That said, Kirkland noted that CIOs in risk-adverse industries such as the public sector and financial services will need to understand that they cannot force changes if the organization does not want it, as this would put IT heads, and their team, in a difficult position.

To be a successful CIO
Therefore, a successful CIO will need to have good business judgment and also understand how technology can be used to achieve business goals.

Kirkland said: "This is vital if the CIO wishes to convince the management and employees about the advantages of recommended technologies. As opposed to just acting as a technical specialist with limited business skills, today's CIO should be able to see how technology relates to the organization and its operations as whole."

Ring said CIOs tend to "carry more weight" in their role if they have management experience outside of IT. They also need very good communication skills and make good internal allies within different departments, she said.

"The key is to be able to demonstrate how the new technology has worked elsewhere to deliver business benefits, but also to be clever about how the technology is introduced," she added.

However, she said the level of change CIOs can bring varies on a company-by-company basis because there are still organizations with senior management teams that cannot think about IT as anything but a cost center. This constrains CIOs.

"But, I do think the balance is gradually tipping toward organizations where the CIO is able to proactively contribute to business change via technology innovation," Ring said.