CIOs lack confidence to be biz leader

Chief information officers have amassed knowledge in IT and business across their organizations, but lack the confidence to tap their knowhow to drive business growth and innovations.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

CIOs have the breadth of knowledge and engagement across all business units in the organization, yet they lack the confidence to do more with this information to drive business growth, choosing to simply be technology managers instead.

That was the view of Khalid Kark, vice president and research director at Forrester Research, who said unlike the business unit (BU) leaders, CIOs get to know the ins and outs of the organization's processes across these groups. But this knowledge is often confined to implementing IT to meet business strategies rather than identify opportunities to drive business innovation, he added.

They are hesitant to do so as they think the responsibility for business growth is not under their purview. "CIOs think of themselves as technology managers. They lack that amount of confidence to home in on the role of a business leader," Kark told ZDNet Asia at the sidelines of Forrester's CIO Summit Asia-Pacific held in Singapore Thursday.

However, this mindset needs to change, he stressed. Rather than just be a collaborator, the CIO should be a co-creator--one who proactively looks for business solutions and focuses on ongoing and sustained innovation. "They have to be at the table when a business strategy is being decided," he stated.

They will also have to look beyond the business-IT alignment rhetoric as this is no longer adequate. The pace of change in the business world is "too significant and the goalpost keeps moving", which increases business expectations on CIOs, the research director said.

Today, the CIO's role will have to shift from being an orchestra conductor to being a jazz musician--the former values precision and control, whereas the latter emphasizes on improvisation, creativity and interaction with others, Kark stated.

Agreeing, John Brand, vice president and principal analyst of Forrester Research's CIO group, said the pace and scale of disruption in both technology and business worlds mean CIOs have to step up from being an internally-focused role to an external one engaging stakeholders beyond the organization's IT department.

Brand, who was also at the CIO Summit, said the best-performing CIOs have capabilities that span both business and technology domains. Rather than view this as a tradeoff, the CIO role should bridge the two arenas, he emphasized.

Asia leaders more open to risks
Asia-based CIOs are also more prepared and open to such changes than their western counterparts as their companies are not burdened by legacy IT systems, according to Kark.

This does not mean executing such changes and assuming accountability will be easy though. "It takes a lot of risk, and with innovation, you don't know whether something will work [out well]," he said.

Sometimes, there is no business case or timeline for returns on investment (ROI) to refer to or support a project. For instance, CIOs could propose a private cloud deployment that will cost the company US$5 million but all he can say to the CEO is "trust me", Kark noted.

This is when credibility and a good track record are crucial. CIOs will need to improve the value of the business in the present, while building out their long-term vision for innovative processes and services at the same time, he advised.

The immediate priorities could include optimizing current IT infrastructure efficiency or addressing the low-hanging fruit of business user needs incrementally, he added.

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