More Leadership Required

More Leadership Required

Trouble is, not all CIOs are up to the job—or think they are not, though many of them know that leadership is more important than ever. In February's CIO Insight survey, on the CIO role, 43 percent of top IT executives said leadership ability is the most important personal attribute required for success in their current position—an indication, respondents said, of just how tough a year it's been. In last year's survey, "business understanding" was named the CIO's most important personal attribute.

The February 2003 survey also cited "cost and budget pressures" as the top concern that "frustrates" IT executives most about their jobs: 78 percent of top IT executives said the CIO's job was more difficult this past year than previously.

What does leadership mean in this case? Telling higher-ups they simply can't have the technology-powered business strategies they've ordered without providing the funds required to get them—or, if cuts must be made, then asking business executives to help make the tough IT-business trade-offs that let a company downsize effectively and still execute strategy. "Accountability needs to be set up, and shared," says Kitzis. "CIOs can't do it alone—nor should they."

Gold goes so far as to suggest organizations that allow CIOs to make tough spending cuts on their own are giving CIOs too much power. Such decisions, he says, need to be made in tandem with top-level business executives. "IT decisions are inseparable from business decisions," says Gold. Yet today, especially in tough times, CIOs are being put in the position of deciding who wins and who loses in the race for scarce resources, he says. "Let's say you have three business units—A, B and C—and each one has a business strategy that requires 40 units of IT resources to accomplish," Gold says. "The IT organization has only 100 units of resources to dole out. The aggregate demand on the IT organizations equals 120—20 units more than IT has to give."

So what happens? Who should decide which of the three business units gets the most funding and which one takes the most cuts? "If the organization says it wants all three of those business strategies to be executed, and all three of those strategies require IT, then all of a sudden the CIO may explicitly or implicitly be in the uncomfortable position of having to pick and choose and make a decision about which is the most appropriate business strategy," Gold explains. "The CIO is, in fact, being empowered to make a decision alone that should be made jointly with the enterprise-level executives." Gold says this situation often "creates a political minefield for CIOs. There's no political cover for him or her to say 'No, I'm not going to fund your project.' "

This article was originally published on 03-17-2003
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