Management Strategies

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Howard Baldwin, Contributing Web Editor, Optimize
Howard Baldwin, Contributing Web Editor, Optimize
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CIOs Need to Understand Their Roles to be Successful

Being successful in IT means understanding what kind of CIO you are and what kind of company you're in.

Q: Is this one size fits all, or are there situations in which divisional CIOs belong to one category whereas headquarters CIOs belong to another?

A: It's not one-size-fits-all. Take pharmaceutical companies, which have strong business units. There's no way a central group can take on responsibility for everything that's going on in the business units, so the central IT shop would be a solid utility and the business units should be partner players. You could also have a partner player IT group in one division of a company and another division in which IT is tangential to the product or service. It's challenging, but CIOs need to know the type of business they're in.

I've spoken to CIOs who are moving from one kind of group to the other. My question to them is, 'Are the conditions around you right for that move?'

There are two catalysts for change: internal and external. Either the CEO brings in a new CIO, or competitors or customers change the rules of the game, and you can't have the IT department you used to have.

Q: How do you make sure you're the right CIO in the right position and not try to change an organization that shouldn't be changed?

A: You need to look at the interest level. If you think you want to be a partner player, you need to have an audience when you propose a new technology. Do you have the ear of the CEO? If so, do you have the interest of execs below the CEO? Because even if the CEO is interested, the project may never get done if those executives have other priorities. You also need to look at how IT is being measured. Is it being measured purely as a cost? If so, your chances of being a partner player are slim.

Instead, look at the role IT plays in business metrics -- is it contributing to profitability, revenue or a shortening of cycle time? That's your measurement. But you have to have the right processes at the right level in terms of operations. You have to be excellent at the archetype that is most appropriate.

Q: So you start with the solid utility and build from there. It goes back to the old idea that if you want to advance to being strategic, you have to have your ducks in a row to start with.

A: Yes, the worst of all worlds is CIOs who want to be partner players but whose infrastructure isn't reliable, so they can't even be a solid utility. If you fail at the first two, you don't get a chance to be the third one. Hence the lack of CIO tenure. It's also important that as you move up the chain, you don't lose your focus on what is going on at the previous level.

Courtesy of Optimize, a CMP Media publication.

Where Do You Fit?

According to Forrester's Laurie Orlov, there are three main archetypes for CIOs today:

1. The solid utility -- The IT organization must provide cost-effective, dial-tone reliability.

2. The trusted supplier -- Project delivery is added to the solid-utility model.

3. The partner player -- The business is IT and IT is the business.

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