In the not-too-distant future, keeping the company e-mail system up and running or overseeing a sweeping transition to a service-oriented architecture—important as those responsibilities may be—might not be enough to keep a Fortune 500 CIO in a job.
A report issued this week from Gartner suggests that CIOs, long considered captains of the Good Ship Cost Center, need to start thinking and acting more like venture capitalists, not only to drive revenue and profits but also to better position themselves for future openings within the executive ranks.
"Sure, some CIOs are going to say, 'What are you smoking?'" says Dave Aron, an analyst at Gartner and author of the report. "They'll say that it's not their job to drive revenue growth. What we're finding and trying to tell CIOs is that this is more of an opportunity than a responsibility."
While CIOs have spent the better part of the past decade educating their peers on the business operations side about how IT can reduce costs and improve efficiency throughout the organization, Aron says they need to use whatever discretionary time and money they do have on developing projects and ideas that generate new revenue streams.
"It may seem corny, but having that venture capitalist mind-set really works," he says. "You have control over scarce resources and people. Now how can you create the most value with these assets?"
To get the ball rolling, Gartner offers these four suggestions to CIOs looking to make an impact on the bottom line:
- Clarify enterprise growth levers and where IS should contribute.
- Build deep business knowledge and behavioral capabilities in IS, and contribute proactively to business project definition and prioritization.
- Go beyond conventional project management and participate in good benefits realization practices.
- Mentor the IS organization to move from a mind-set of "order taker" to a mind-set of the IT venture capitalist—challenging the value of IT investments.
Some companies are already seeing the benefits of ideas conceived and executed by IT managers and staff. IT workers at Dutch bank ABN Amro in December convinced management to open a branch in Second Life, the immensely popular virtual community. The branch offers financial advice for now, but may eventually offer "virtual" banking services. Dell, IBM, Nissan and General Motors also maintain a presence in Second Life.
At Autogrill SpA, IT managers are required to spend one week a year out in the field monitoring the real-life operations of its quick-service restaurants. The Italian company, which owns and operates 975 restaurants in 25 countries, has now started selling ferry tickets and other non-food items after the technology managers convinced management they could install and integrate the machines without disrupting its core food-service business.
Sure, these ideas could and probably should have come from the sales and marketing departments. But they didn't.
"IT people understand process and help people understand what else can be done," Aron explains. "They can see what others might miss."