What Do CIOs Want?

Everyone is constantly making demands of the CIO. But no one ever asks what the CIO wants and needs in return.

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. 

This article was originally published on 03-08-2013
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