21st Century Boards
Amongst executive positions, the CIO has remained relatively static in recent years. This might be due to a lack of ambition and political acumen associated with the role. To truly influence corporate strategy, the CIO needs allies – and the CFO is first place to start.
In football, goalkeepers are often remembered for their mistakes and the same could be said about the chief information officer (CIO). Largely unnoticed when systems are running well, they are suddenly thrust into the harsh glare of the spotlight if there is a downtime lasting a couple of minutes. For that to change, the CIO’s role has to be seen as more than just keeping the lights on; they must use technology to drive the company’s growth.
So far, this has not happened. A recent survey of 301 senior IT professionals by Ernst & Young shows that more than 60 percent of CIOs have stuck to their knitting of controlling IT costs and keeping systems running. The survey also found that 49 percent reported little or no engagement in higher order functions such as discussing business performance and challenges or developing business strategy. “If you are just the guy who can make the Blackberry work, why would they discuss strategy with you?” asks Volker Raupach, VP IT automotive experience Europe at Johnson Controls.
What is even more damaging is that companies tend to have low expectations for their CIOs. Just 35 percent of other C-level executives surveyed think that CIOs can help in fact-based decision making in developing corporate strategy. And less than half of them actually think that the standing of CIOs has improved in recent years. Remarkably, the findings of this type of survey are not really new. Ever since the designation CIO came into being in the 1960s, the role of technology in business has grown almost exponentially while the CIO’s role has not. It has more or less remained that of a second string player in the C-suite.
Part of the problem seems to be that CIOs are not ambitious enough. In a survey conducted by the executive search firm Harvey & Nash this year, a remarkable 82 percent of CIOs surveyed say they are satisfied with their current role. This is reinforced by the paths they have taken to the C-level. Most have spent their entire career solely within the IT function, after having received a degree in IT, of course. In the most recent Ernst & Young survey, only 10 percent of CIOs held an MBA degree. This gives them a somewhat stunted world view with which tackling matters of corporate strategy is hard.
But it is not just about strategy. The CIO also often stumbles because of ignorance of business language – net present value, customer experience and P-and-L are all too often not a natural part of their vocabulary. This brings with it an inability to pitch IT projects as a substantial link in a company’s value chain and as a tool to drive the company’s growth. Conversely, a CIO’s peers in the C-suite are equally ignorant and bored by IT paraphernalia and the language of technology – latency, gigahertz and petabyte rarely spark vivid discussions in a boardroom.
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