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Create, cut, create, cut: How to be a successful CIO in 18 easy steps

Insightful visionary, able pragmatist, savvy value creator, and relentless cost cutter: new study reveals what makes today's CIO tick
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

Being a chief information officer sounds glamorous, but is not a cake job by any stretch. CIOs are at the epicenter of the crossroads, cross currents, and crosswinds of all changes and challenges sweeping today's business. You have to be an insightful visionary, able pragmatist, savvy value creator, and relentless cost cutter all at the same time. And be thanked and cursed at the same time.

For anyone aspiring for the CIO's job -- or already in the hotseat -- IBM recently released a new global study of more than 2,500 CIOs that points to the thinking of what it takes to be successful and of value to the business.

The study looked at the activities and priorities of CIOs "high-growth" versus "low-growth" organizations, as defined by 2004–2007 profit before tax (PBT) growth for their organizations.  Here are some interesting contrasts -- and it can be assumed that these priorities shaped the overall businesses' success, versus the other way around (low-growth culture depressing more proactive CIO activity).

  • To innovate, 64% of high-growth CIOs actively integrate business and IT across the organization, versus 33% of low-growth CIOs.
  • To pursue corporate vision, 28% of high-growth CIOs spend the greatest allocation of time and budget on new technology and business initiatives, versus 15% of low-growth CIOs. (Note how this is a relatively small minority of CIOs, even in the high-growth case.)
  • In staying in maintenance mode, 40% of low-growth CIOs spend most of their time in core technology services, versus 23% of high-growth CIOs.
  • To promote intra-IT collaboration, 53% of high-growth CIOs actively use collaboration and partnering technology within the IT organization, versus 33% of low-growth CIOs.
  • To promote enterprise-wide collaboration, 41% of high-growth CIOs used such technology for the entire organization, versus 22% of low-growth CIOs.
  • To advance business intelligence, 58% of high-growth CIOs proactively craft data into actionable information, versus 36% of low-growth CIOs.
  • To stimulate customer collaboration in the next five years, 87% of high-growth CIOs expect to seek customers’ active input and interaction, compared to 70% of low-growth CIOs. (Even the low-growthers are aboard with this one.)
  • To achieve enterprise standardization within five years, 61% of high-growth CIOs expect to implement completely standardized, low-cost business processes, versus 50% of low-growth CIOs. (Low-growthers seem to be aboard here as well.)

The IBM study also finds that leveraging analytics to gain a competitive advantage and improve business decision-making is now their top priority. More than four out of five (83 percent) respondents identified business intelligence and analytics – the ability to see patterns in vast amounts of data and extract actionable insights – as the way they will enhance their organizations’ competitiveness.

In addition, the IBM study also confirms that CIOs are necessarily relentless about scrutinizing budgets and processes to trim the fat. Across the entire sample, CIOs spend about 14 percent of their time removing costs from the technology environment. The report puts it this way:

To control costs, CIOs commonly view a central technology organization as the future of their function. Centralized infrastructures and processes enable shared services optimization that, in turn, provides economies of scale. Three-fourths of all CIOs—including those in both high-PBT growth and low-PBT growth organizations—anticipate having a strongly centralized infrastructure in five years.

Based on the collective wisdom IBM drew from these 2,500 CIOs, the report provides 18 key actions that can have the greatest impact on an organization's success. (And perhaps put more in the "high-PBT growth" column next time.)

1) Push business and technology integration 2) Champion innovation 3) Extend CIO influence 4) Enable the corporate vision 5) Make working together easy 6) Concentrate on core competencies 7) Make data “sing” 8) Reach customers in new ways 9) Enhance integration and transparency 10) Standardize to economize 11) Centralize the infrastructure 12) Keep cost reduction a top priority 13) Know the business 14) Get involved with business peers in non-IT projects 15) Present and measure IT in business terms 16) Cultivate truly extraordinary IT talent 17) Lead the IT forces 18) Enhance the data

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