Diamond Management & Technology Consultants' Chris Curran, writing on his excellent CIO Dashboard blog, got me interested in the question of whether CIOs spend too much time looking inward. Earlier this year, his company surveyed business and technology leaders and found three-quarters of them thought 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.
In a more recent post on his blog, Curran describes attending a presentation by Jack Cassidy, Cincinnati Bell's CEO, who asked the CIO attendees to rank C-level executives in terms of their importance from the CEO's perspective. CIO came in seventh place, after CFO, COO, head of sales, head of marketing, chief counsel and head of human resources.
Cassidy then asked the CIOs a follow-up question, what is the purpose of business, and provided the answer. You guessed it, Cassidy's answer focused on the customer, not on internal processes. Curran helpfully breaks down how the CIO can help attract and retain profitable customers and offers real-world examples of CIOs that have employed the suggested strategies.
Curran wraps by proposing that perhaps the "C" in CIO should stand for the customer, to remind technology executives of where their focus should be. He makes a great point. Last month I wrote about Microsoft's Tony Scott, a CIO who seemed to be thinking along those lines when he put in several hours working with a customer-service representative in a call center to gain better insight into customers' needs.
Comments included in a recent CIO.com story just reinforce the point. Said Sam Ghosh, group CEO of Reliance Capital:
The user community is part of our CTO's focus and always was, but it's become more important to find how to make the experience much better for the end customer.
The article also mentions Gartner's contention that by 2012, the top 25 percent of companies in terms of earnings growth will be those with "entrepreneurial CIOs" who provide new or breakaway competitive advantages that translate directly into revenue, financial results and market share. And it includes several examples of CIOs who helped their companies achieve top-line growth, in several cases by better focusing on customers.