IBM CIO Study Cites Business Skills as Key Priority

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 09-10-2009

IBM's newly released Global CIO study sends a loud signal to those who still focus on tactical IT operations: It's time to shift gears.

The executive summary of the study, which surveyed more than 2,500 IT leaders across the globe, states something most CIOs know: The best IT leaders are strategic thinkers, they drive change and help solve problems with the business--not just IT.

But it also revealed something somewhat surprising in this economic climate: That CIOs spend 55 percent of their time on innovation-related activities, such as managing non-technology business issues and getting buy-in for innovation programs, while the remaining hours go to more traditional CIO tasks--specifically, running the IT operation.

And that contrast was even more evident by company size. For the study, IBM differentiated "high growth" (based on earnings before tax) and "low growth." "CIOs from high-growth companies spend much more time helping to fulfill the vision of the company, involved directly with the business leaders driving the business agenda," says Patrick Toole, who was appointed today as IBM's new CIO and helped analyze the study results. "And the CIOs from low-growth companies actually spend very little time on that and spend most of their time on managing technology."

The study found that successful CIOs do three things: They drive innovation, improve ROI and increase the impact IT has on the business. To do those right, CIOs need to blend two roles for each, according to IBM. Specifically, Big Blue believes successful innovative CIOs are both an "insightful visionary" and an "able pragmatist"; ROI boosters combine being a "savvy value creator" with "relentless cost cutter"; and those impacting the business are a mix of "collaborative business leader" and "inspiring IT manager."

These roles--names aside--exemplify the difficulties CIOs face in having to wear so many hats.

One in particular stuck out for Toole: the insightful visionary. "I'm not sure a lot of CIOs have thought in that dimension," he says. "They may have started doing it or may be doing it. But that really changes somewhat the relationship and raises the stakes in the value we have to deliver to our stakeholders."

On the innovation front, CIOs cited 10 technologies that they believe can help build competitive differentiation. Business analytics took the top spot (83 percent), followed by virtualization (76 percent), risk management and compliance (71 percent), customer and partner collaboration (68 percent) and mobility (68 percent).

While all six roles are necessary, Toole says, the CIO doesn't need to embody every one of them. But if the boss lacks some of those skills, they need to have deputies who do. That's why Toole believes one of the key learnings of the study is that IT leaders need to perform a deep skills assessment of their organizations. "[There's a] realization that we have to more or less choose the dimensions and roles that we personally play, but you have to cover all of the dimensions," he says. "We may not be the 'inspirational IT manager,' but we'd better have someone on our team who's playing that role."

The study was compiled by IBM's Institute for Business Value. Of the respondents, 38 percent came from Western Europe, 24 percent from North America, 6 percent from Japan, and 32 percent from 44 "rapidly developing markets."

Half of the companies had between 1,000 and 10,000 employees, while 34 percent had more and 16 percent less.

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