How Much IT A CIO Needs To Know?

Aligning IT with business is an age old debate. This became more pronounced when in the 1990s, IT was seen a business enabler and not a cost centre. When the ERP wave swept the enterprises in the 1990s, the nondescript MIS department tucked somewhere in the basement, suddenly became a celebrity and thus CIOs were born.

Their stature grew, because they purchased IT. But is the CIO a hands on tech person or a business head driving tech via outsourcing?

I approached a handful of CIOs and posed them this question. Interestingly some shied away and some requested not to mention their names. And some are more vocal.

In one of the interactions a leading CIO told me : “ CIO in today’s context should possess a fine blend of knowledge cutting across: Business knowledge, functional expertise, and business process knowledge. Add to that, the knowledge of existing and emerging technologies and people management skills are vital.”

CIOs by and large also agree that technology is becoming increasingly complex. Too much focus on understanding the technology will distract the CIO from focusing on areas like business, IT alignment and collaboration which are critical and a key competence expected from a CIO by the CEO and the business today. More than understanding the nuts and bolts of each technology, the CIO has to focus on assessing the relevance of these technologies to his organization and business and explore ways and means to introduce new technologies in the organization.

“The CIO has to unlearn the ‘one mile depth, one inch wide’ strategy and learn the ‘one inch depth, one mile wide’ strategy which will help the CIO to constantly look for scouting new technologies and cost-effective solutions in a world where new is replacing the old, be it technology or process.”

Clearly, it becomes evident that the CIO has to be both a business and a person who has an aptitude for technology.  So a CIO needs a blended IT strategy. He needs to create a perfect balance and demolish if at all any perception among management that ‘IT is a cost center’ on the contrary, he must create benchmarks on RoI, the bottom line impact, profitability and whole lot of business deliverables and link it with IT and its enterprise impact and drive home the point of ‘IT as a profit center.’

Clearly, the role of the CIO today is one of tightrope walking. He must be a multi-tasking guru and his/her goal is to create a state-of-the-art IT organization. They can be a technologist or business guru but having only one skill (either tech or business) and not the other will lead to failure. So to be a success, the CIO needs to be adept, agile, and willing to learn and unlearn. That will make for a successful CIO.



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