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A New Breed of CIO?

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 07-09-2008 Print

Is this going to give birth to a new breed of CIO?

Sirkin: When there's change, there's always some alarm and disturbance. People are going to have to step up to the plate. CIOs have had to step up before; some have been able to, and some haven't.

This isn't fundamentally different from what's happened in the past. This is going to be a bigger step, though, so in theory, fewer will be able to step up.

What specific skills will CIOs need to survive?

Sirkin: It's still early to know, but three areas will clearly be critical to enable success.

First, CIOs must take a global perspective on IT and have the skills available to implement globally, especially in developing markets. They will need to ensure that IT systems can support a significant increase in the rate of acquisitions--many of which will be cross-border--and quickly integrate new partners and new customers into their supply chain. An increase in their company's global footprint will mean a greater need for systems tailored to comply with different local requirements for accounting and reporting.

Most important, given the need for companies to be global but act local, their IT systems will need to have the flexibility to deal with different business models, different distribution systems and different management reporting needs. Finding the right balance between the business needs and cost will become much more difficult, but also much more important.

Second, CIOs will need to be more than just partners with business leaders. They will need to think and act like business leaders themselves. They will need to get ahead of the business needs and be able to take the IT capabilities built in one market and adapt them to other markets.

CIOs will need to be able to work with a variety of IT firms in potentially dozens of countries and be able to integrate their work into the overall company system. Given the long lead time of IT, they will need to be ahead of the business leaders, rather than reacting to the needs of the businesses.

Third, CIOs will need be fast and flexible. They will need to think multiple steps ahead and embrace different ways of operating. CIOs will play a major role in shaping the competitive advantage and therefore the strategy of their businesses.

Over the next five years, the value of speed will double or triple. CIOs who can keep up with the speed and flexibility requirements will give their companies a real advantage. The good news and bad news for CIOs is that the future is here. Those who are most ready are most likely to help their companies win. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.

This is a big step up, a big recasting of the scope and scale of what CIOs are capable of.

Sirkin: We haven't yet come to grips with what this is. IT hasn't, nor has the C-level suite.

Why is that?

Sirkin: They don't understand what's coming at them. Those who are in denial won't think about it at all, but most people operating in businesses just haven't gotten to that point yet.

It's not surprising that the CIO and the rest of the C-level suite haven't adopted this yet, because we're just beginning to tell them it's going to happen. They're behind where you might expect them to be. The ones who have had to operate in global environments may have figured out more of it.

This shift will start to become more apparent in the next few years. It's still in the early stages, because people continue to think about globalization in a traditional context.

Globality is not a new word. But it's very important for people to know the difference between it and globalization; otherwise they'll say it's just a continuation of a trend.

While technically that is correct, this is a very different change. This is not a step change; it's a sea change.

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