CIOs: How Much Can You Juggle?

It’s abundantly clear at this point in the recession that cost reduction remains priority No. 1 for IT leaders. We’ve written quite a bit about this in recent months, and there’s no doubt we’ll dig deeper as the recession lingers.

But it’s important for CIOs to stay focused on all the other issues on their list. While your bosses are looking for dramatic action in cutting costs, you also need to pay attention to the other dynamics of IT leadership.

I spoke recently with the Society for Information Management’s new president, Sunoco CIO Peter Whatnell. From what he’s hearing, managing costs is top of mind for his peers, but that won’t be his sole focus this year. SIM is developing programs and activities aimed at helping IT executives manage all the other aspects of surviving–and, hopefully, thriving in–the downturn.

SIM’s annual CIO surveys provide a clear view of what IT leaders are focusing on each year. Two issues have dominated those studies in recent years: aligning IT and business strategies, and building the best IT work force.

This may be the year in which we see the strongest-ever gains in aligning IT with the business. Put bluntly, if CIOs want to hang on to their jobs, they have to achieve substantial alignment with their companies’ comprehensive business strategies.

There’s a reason why it’s been such a high priority for CIOs: It’s a tricky topic, and many IT leaders don’t fully understand what true alignment entails.

A reasonable way to start is to recognize the hurdles that exist–and persist. Experts with Diamond Management and Technology

Consultants have studied the issue for years: The findings from their 2009 Digital IQ study identify some of the most common barriers to achieving alignment. CIOs should take a close look at those findings and determine which ones are most troublesome for their organizations.

While you’re thinking about alignment, you might as well focus on performance. A key element to that is finding the right metrics to measure what your IT organization is doing, as well as what value it’s bringing to the business. Sam Greengard takes a look at the challenge of picking the right IT metrics, complete with some anecdotes from two experienced CIOs.

Likewise, building a top-flight work force comes with its own burdens. As IT shops are compelled to do more with less, CIOs must do whatever they can to hang on to their top talent. Bob Violino’s article on employee retention reveals that while financial compensation is still a critical factor, building a hospitable, creative working environment may be the secret weapon.

While you’re looking at different ways to keep your people happy, you also have to consider the future. Granted, most CIOs aren’t interested in grooming their own successors. But as Gary Perman’s analysis of CIO succession management points out, not having a succession plan can inflict massive damage on your company’s future.

Last month I cited Microsoft CIO Tony Scott’s belief that IT leaders may be better suited than their business executive colleagues to manage through the recession. We have the full interview in this month’s issue. Scott’s years as a business and IT executive give him a unique perspective on leadership, and I’m sure his opinions will get you thinking.

Juggling all these hot-ticket issues is quite a homework assignment, but, simply put, it needs to be done.

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