Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Salesman

K Roy

Are CIOs business leaders? Most say yes. A Gartner report says, er, well,
most CEOs see their CIOs as "ops" leaders, really, not business

But here’s another side to the story of "business leadership".

The CIO as business and marketing manager. Profit center head. Salesman.

No, I’m not talking about nebulous things like internal customers and
charge-back and transfer pricing and divisional P&L sheets.

Take a look at TCS, Wipro Technologies, DCM Data Systems, and a host of other
large tech entities who share a similar history. They were born as the IS or
tech departments of business houses. They were joined by other large business
houses: Mahindras, Birlas, Godrej & Boyce, Larsen & Toubro, Blue Star,
JK Technosoft, Herosoft…

And a host of others have walked that path: from the very prominent i-Flex,
which transformed from Citibank division to India’s most successful product
company, to NSE-IT and ICICI Infotech and Canbank and ITC Infotech.

I’m told by the CIO of a public-sector equipment manufacturer that he now
drives business worth several hundred crore. His department offers to other
public sector companies the services that it became a specialist in while
supporting the company itself. And he describes the personal transition: from
being a customer, listening to vendor pitches and entreaties, the CIO is now
servicing other real customers who have real choices in a competitive
environment. And he has stiff revenue targets.

Here’s the same change seen another way. If the CEO view of the CIO ranges
from "ops" guy to (less charitably) a cost center and bottomless pit,
think of the same CIO suddenly bringing in revenue. Plus he runs the company’s
tech backbone. Now in which of these two roles do you think the CIO commands
more power?

  • Plain old CIO of ABC Ltd, who gobbled up Rs 3 crore last
    year and is demanding six this year, and says RoI is difficult to measure,

  • Business unit head of ABC-IT (or even CEO of ABC-IT Ltd)
    who will spend Rs 5 crore but will bring in Rs 25 crore.

The transition can go like this: from IS department (cost
center), to profit center model with charge-backs, to separate company, to new
name, to marketing and selling and bringing in business.

I’m not knocking the plain old CIO. He remains the dominant
life form on the IS planet. He’s the life-blood and driver and sine qua non of
enterprise IT. But there’s a different animal out there: the IS department
that brings in revenue. And with at last a hundred examples of these, that may
be too compelling a mode for many enterprises to pass by in the years ahead.

Prasanto K Roy

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