Doubts Raised About CIOs` Strategic Importance

IT plays a major role in a company’s strategic success, but CIOs are rarely involved in plotting that strategy.

That’s the takeaway of a new survey that finds a disconnect between what executives say about IT and what happens at the planning table.

Eight in 10 executives say IT is strategic to their business, and even more say it’s a vital component for building competitive differentiation, according to a survey conducted by Diamond Management and Technology Consultants. But only a third of both business and IT executives say the CIO is deeply involved in the strategic planning process. "It seems like there’s a lot of communications going on, a lot of alignment going on, but it drops off precipitously between the talking and doing," says John Sviokla, Diamond’s vice chairman and a former professor at Harvard Business School.

Just over one quarter of respondents say their CIOs spend between 31 and 50 percent of their time on strategic issues. Only 11 percent say CIOs spend more than half their time doing so.

And in the absence of the CIO, is the CEO stepping up? Not in most cases: only two-thirds say the chief executive actively advocates IT as a strategic asset. That number fell short of Diamond’s expectations, given how many say IT is strategic. The result, in many cases, is that IT has no champion at the strategic planning level.

With so few saying CIOs are involved in the strategic planning process, it’s a wonder just how strategic they really are. "Perhaps many CIOs have their house in order or have delegated that responsibility further down the organization," the report states. "More likely–and unfortunately–they are too busy juggling other demands to take the time required to run IT operations like a successful business in and of itself."

The research shows that roughly one quarter of business and IT executives say CIOs spends less than 10 percent of their time managing the IT operation, including overseeing outsourcers, measuring performance and striving to meet business needs.

Sviokla believes CIOs, usually cut out of strategic planning, often spend their time between putting out fires, coordinating with the business and trying to justify their tactics. "Not all (C-level executives) are created equal," he says. "In some organizations, it’s small "c" or deputy "c." They’re chief only in name, not in reality."

To earn a place in the strategic process, Sviokla says CIOs need to first accomplish three core objectives: delivering core services, building a flexible business platform and deliver business value.

"To me, that’s the difference between the capital "c" in CIO and the small "c" in CIO," he says. "If you’re not (succeeding in those objectives), even if you have a seat at the table, you won’t keep it for long."

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