CIOs, Not CEOs, Can Drive Business Transformations

By William Atkinson

CIOs are in a unique position to exploit their knowledge of business and technology to influence or drive the direction of an organization’s transformation, according to the findings of a new Forrester report titled “The CIO’s Role in Business Transformation.”

The report noted that almost all of today’s business transformations are dependent on technology and focus on breaking traditional business silos. These high-risk, high-complexity projects require a commanding knowledge of technology, business processes and culture change.

The Forrester report suggests that CIOs might be best-suited for a transformational business role. In fact, a Forrester survey released last September found that 53 percent of respondents stated that the CIO (29 percent) was the most senior leader in driving or supporting a business transformation. The CEO was tied for second place (24 percent) with the CTO.

The report identified four different types of CIOs, based on their roles in business transformation. These are soldiers, leaders of IT, change consultants, and transformation leaders. These four types vary in their degree of transformation leadership and business involvement. The report suggests that each CIO must understand his or her base of influence and the tactics that will be effective for their particular role.

CIOs who are “soldiers” focus on implementation. They provide little business leadership and largely follow orders with regard to IT activities other than infrastructure. They lack the business information and direct political clout of other types of CIOs.

“Leaders of IT” are CIOs who balance IT and enterprise needs. This is a traditional CIO role in which the CIO ensures that all appropriate IT functions are involved in the transformation. Past this largely IT role, these CIOs, similar to business leaders in the organization, represent their companies in defining the business strategy, developing the road map, and implementing the plan.

CIOs who are “change consultants” advise on the business transformation process. These CIOs know the mechanics of a business transformation and guide others throughout the process. Typically, they have been previously involved in transformations and know the steps, roles, deliverables and risks of the projects, and also have the skills to show others how such transformations are successfully carried out.

“Transformation leader” CIOs are those who lead and run the business transformation. These CIOs ensure the effective application of business and technical components, including resource allocation, funding, system selection, and progress tracking.

However, it is rare for a CIO fit neatly into just one of the four different types, according to the Forrester report. For example, a CIO might be a traditional leader of IT for most phases of a transformation, but become a change consultant to several departments for their business process redesign.

Is one type of CIO generally better than another? “If better is primarily the ability to have an impact on business transformation, then the transformation leader and change consultant are at the top,” says Marc Cecere, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, and author of the report. “The reason for the transformation leader being there is obvious. The CIO as change consultant will have an impact on every step of the transformation, but that person is more of a process expert and would have the same advantages and many of the disadvantages of a senior consultant brought in from the outside.”  

According to Cecere, a leader of IT also has a significant impact, but not to the degree that a transformation leader and a change consultant has. “I have seen CIOs who were more the soldier type who were thrust into a leadership position or put themselves in this spot,” Cecere says. “They lacked the negotiation skills and, in two cases, credibility with several of the business leaders. They were safe when they toiled in obscurity deep in the bowels of IT. However, as they moved up, their limitations became obvious, and neither lasted as a CIO.”

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