Last month I publicly wondered if many CIOs spend too much time looking inward, concentrating more on improving internal business processes than on projects directly linked to revenue generation, customer-service improvements or other business goals. I shared results of a Diamond Management & Technology Consultants survey in which three-quarters of respondents said the CIO's primary innovation role was to improve business processes (50 percent) or IT processes (25 percent). Far fewer respondents said the CIO's role was to create innovation designed to improve customer service, reach new customers or create new products/services.
CIO Dashboard blogger Chris Curran, the author of the survey, and I agreed that while there's a strong connection between internal process improvements and customer-facing activities, it's quite telling that respondents largely chose the two internally-focused roles from a list that also included three externally-focused ones. This perceived focus on internal vs. external activities "has got to have some impact on the priorities, the requirements and the resulting designs," wrote Curran in a comment following my post.
Other experts agree that CIOs will need to put themselves out there and get involved in more front-office activities if they want to be seen as valued business partners. A CIO Update article quotes several such experts. Said Kim Batson, CIO coach at Career Management Coaching:
Managing customer relationships and impacting business growth through innovation and improvement of products and services is becoming increasingly important for the new CIO.
Tom DeGarmo, a principal in PricewaterhouseCoopers' advisory practice and leader of its Technology Consulting Solutions practice, described three hats that successful IT leaders should wear: IT Problem Solver, Cost Cutter and Strategist. Based on Curran's survey, many CIOs see themselves as wearing only two of these three hats. DeGarmo called leaders that can wear all three hats "situational" CIOs.
DeGarmo is the latest in a long line of others who work closely with CIOs -- and CIOs themselves -- to try to find a term that accurately describes the CIO's responsibilities. When I interviewed him last month, Vince Kellen, CIO of the University of Kentucky, described the CIO role as "more of an IT industry analyst who needs to understand IT"s impact on the business." Other business executives face similar challenges as CIOs, Kellen said, so CIOs should focus less on discussing problems and more on solving them.
When they do solve problems, CIOs need to make sure other folks hear about it. The CIO Update article quotes Meredith Caley, a VP of recruiting at ConsultNet, who said that technology leaders shouldn't shy away from self-promotion. She said:
It's essential to have a strong network of face-to-face as well as online contacts who know who you are and value your skills. For [CIOs] who do this correctly, they will be highly visible for new opportunities, and be able to bounce back in case there is a cut back.
The article also stresses the importance of CIOs forming alliances with other business leaders, especially CFOs. It's been less than a month since I returned from the Midmarket CIO Forum, an event sponsored by IT Business Edge during which several CIOs spoke out during panel discussions to decribe the value they derived from befriending their CFOs. Based on discussions with those CIOs and other sources, I put together a slideshow on how to make the CFO your partner. One of my favorite tips: Work closely with the CFO to come up with IT solutions to problems that closely affect the CFO's job, such as offering more transparency into financial numbers and helping ensure they are accurate.