What Do CIOs Want?

Posted 03-08-2013

What Do CIOs Want?

By Shami Khorana

CIOs continue to find themselves under constant fire. They are called upon to be technologists and strategists, and are increasingly looked upon as service providers working to meet the needs of the various constituents and departments within their organization. While many have questioned CIOs’ viability, few have taken the time to ask what the CIO wants and needs as his or her position evolves.

Over the last year or so, we at HCL America have been asking CIOs what they want. We have conducted formal interviews of our customers in an online survey and had informal conversations in roundtable discussions. At first, some CIOs were taken back by our query.

After all, a CIO's customers—the business heads and end users—constantly say what they need from IT, such as zero down time, the perfect e-commerce solution, an elegant CRM strategy like the one they read about in an airline magazine, and they frequently complain how their needs are not being met. And, not surprisingly, IT vendors are glad to tell a CIO what they need, typically in the form of a solution they are selling.

But CIOs are rarely asked what they want or what they need—from stakeholders including top management, internal customers, IT staff and external partners—to create value for their organizations and advance their own careers.

Some of the items on the CIOs' wish list are logical requests, while others come as somewhat of a surprise.

With respect to top management, the most frequently cited request from CIOs is a willingness for management to treat the CIO as a business leader. Forty-three percent of the CIOs we polled view themselves as "value creators," with the next two largest groups considering themselves "collaborators" (16 percent) and "visionaries" (14 percent). This makes sense given that CIOs believe the top three objectives of their current roles include:

1.      Transforming the IT model from being delivery focused to business aligned and engagement focused;

2.      Increasing the pace at which innovation is rolled out;

3.      Driving new business opportunities that deliver a competitive advantage.

From IT staff, CIOs want to see their teams gain a better understanding of the business and to proactively uncover new opportunities that create value for the business.

From internal business customers, CIOs want accountability and a sharing of responsibility for key initiatives, clear requirements and priorities, as well as clear and open communication for the alignment of goals.

What Do CIOs Want?

And from external suppliers, CIOs’ three top requirements include superior technical skills, innovative engagement of pricing models (e.g., managed services) and possessing an understanding of the business.

Taken together, CIOs' answers to the question "What Do CIOs Want?" shine a light on their changing role—and offer insights about how they can proactively help shape that transformation.

The CIO’s role is rapidly evolving. We have characterized the CIOs who are leading the change as "Reincarnate CIOs.” They are highly evolved IT professionals whose enlightened understanding of the CIO role is in harmony with a business and technology environment that is itself being transformed.

Among other characteristics, the Reincarnate CIO is one who:

         *Focuses as much on business as on technology, as much on strategy as on operations;

         *Is as accountable to the CEO and business unit heads, with whom he or she works to shape strategy, as he or she is to the COO and CFO, with whom he or she works to increase operational efficiency and contain costs;

         *Views IT more as a transformer of the business than an enabler of the business;

         *Develops capabilities that create a career path extending beyond the IT function.

In our research, we repeatedly heard that CIOs need to move to this type of higher-level definition of their job if they are to remain relevant players in the business. The traditional CIO role has evolved and CIOs themselves must evolve. The reason is clear: Trends such as outsourcing, software as a service, the consumerization of IT, BYOD and cloud computing has expropriated many traditional corporate IT tasks.

One way to think about this professional transformation is to consider the different leadership roles a CIO can play. Most CIOs today are moving along a spectrum that goes from operations leader to technology leader to innovation leader and, finally, to business leader. Only a few, though, have reached the point of being influential business leaders in their organizations.

Undoubtedly, IT has become woven into the fabric of nearly every business these days. As one survey respondent said, "There are no IT projects, only business projects." But sometimes those technology strands become part of the fabric in ways that entirely change its quality and function. They change the company's business model.

Consider the international grocery chain Tesco, which believes that South Koreans are the second hardest working people in the world. Taking an hour a week for grocery shopping is not a way that many South Koreans want to spend their limited free time. So instead of asking customers to come to one of their stores, Tesco's South Korean subsidiary, Homeplus, devised a way to bring the stores to their customers.

Homeplus began plastering giant billboards on the walls of subway and metro stations. Instead of advertising weekly specials, the Homeplus billboards are realistic two-dimensional representations of the aisles and shelves of a supermarket, lined from top to bottom with the products found in a three-dimensional store. Each product is accompanied by a Quick Response (QR) code. Shoppers waiting for a subway train can browse the shelves and use their smartphones to scan the QR codes of items they want, which sends the groceries to a virtual shopping cart. After checkout via the customer’s smartphone, the groceries are delivered to the buyer’s doorstep in time for that evening's dinner. Tesco says the subway platform-based virtual stores "change waiting time to shopping time."

Tesco's subway stores are a powerful example of a technology-driven business model transformation. The potential for this kind of innovation exists in nearly every industry. But that potential is likely to be realized only by those who have a deep understanding of both business and technology, a familiarity with both worlds that will spark insights about the connections between them for people like a Reincarnate CIO.


About the Author

Shami Khorana is the president of HCL America, an IT consulting and outsourcing software development company based in Sunnyvale, Calif.