Focusing on Strategy
Whatnell makes an important distinction for his peers. Sure, plenty of buzzworthy technologies and tools--social media, open source, software as a service and others--can bring the cost savings CIOs need. But the opportunity for IT leaders is more strategic than tactical, more business than technology.
Business executives never seem to stop complaining that their CIOs talk too much tech and not enough business. And if CIOs can't step up and meet those demands, it's not likely that the discussion will change in the coming years.
Not surprisingly, this degree of pressure is new to most CIOs. CIO Insight's 2009 CIO Role study found that IT leaders are lasting longer than ever in their current posts. But only a miniscule number of them were in leadership roles during the last recession.
Perhaps more revealing, though--at least in these times--is that only half of respondents reported having previously ran an organization in crisis. On a brighter note, more than three-fourths said they served in a liaison role between IT and the business.
In a time where IT continues to permeate all ends of a business in new and more substantive ways, CIOs need to take ownership of their role in the executive suite, says Charlie Moss, founder of his eponymous strategic consulting firm. "This is an opportunity for the CIO to step forward, be proactive, and say, 'Alright, information touches every part of an organization,'" he says. "Even if they're just hosting the discussion, they can say, 'How can we help sales close the deal, or help engineering build the killer app?'"
Yes, it's easier said than done. With all the pressures bearing down on CIOs, it's hard to know where to go. That's why Informatica CIO Tony Young stresses that CIOs must be mindful of the expectations of the business--and manage them accordingly.
That meshes with Whatnell's belief that "personal courage," an attribute often lost on IT pros, is so essential today. "There's a saying that one of the marks of a leader is the ability to speak truth to power. We in IT tend to have a service-oriented mind-set--we're always looking to fill someone's request," he says. "That's still great, but right now you have to find a way to say, 'No, we can't do that.' You have to get verbally smacked around the head for 10 minutes or two days or two months, but that's your job."