The All-Important Fourth Dimension of the CIO

Ann All

We hit a collective nerve -- and prompted plenty of intelligent discourse -- with our recent blog about what Nicholas Carr characterizes as an "identity crisis" among CIOs.


CIOUpdate columnist Allen Bernard liked one of our reader comments so well he chose to highlight it. The reader, Australian management consultant Jed Simms, succintly presented what he considers the "six dimensions" of the CIO: running operations, improving operations, supporting applications development, improving IT's performance, improving business operations and improving business performance.


While the first four are givens, says Bernard, many CIOs struggle with the last two. He quotes Symantec CIO Dave Thompson, who says that it's tough for CIOs to move into the business realm without the support of an executive team, CEO and board.


Yet that support is often lacking. We blogged about that recently as well. A recent CIO Insight survey appears to bear this out. A whopping 78 percent of respondents agree the CIO role will change dramatically in the next five years.


Asked which responsibilities were important now and which would be important in five years, those showing the greatest predicted growth relate strongly to enabling business rather than improving IT operations. Indeed those related most closely to operations ("leading or overseeing the company's IT projects," for example) sharply dropped in perceived importance.


While just 8 percent of respondents said technical acumen was important to their success as a CIO, 50 percent tapped leadership ability. Business understanding and strategic thinking each received votes of 40 percent. So there is no question that CIOs "get" it.


Yet the percentage of CIOs reporting directly to CEOs has declined steadily from 2003, from 62 percent then to 48 percent today. More CIOs now report to senior finance and operations executives.


Other than getting frustrated, what can CIOs do about this apparent disconnect between what their companies want them to do, and the responsibilities they are willing to give them? At least part of the answer comes from our smart reader, Jed Simms.


Simms characterizes the first three of his six dimensions as "basics." To move beyond what he calls a "glass ceiling," he says CIOs must change the perception of IT. How to do so? Maybe by focusing on his fourth dimension (downplayed a bit by Bernard in his CIOUpdate piece): improving IT's performance.


Maybe the best way to earn the attention of well-placed senior executives and prove that IT has a key role to play in business strategy is by running IT more like a successful business within a business -- and that implies not just making operational improvements but finding ways to make IT more flexible and responsive to business needs.

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Apr 22, 2007 1:46 PM Jed Simms Jed Simms  says:
Hi AnnIts gratifying to see my comments accorded such attentionThe Six Dimensions of the CIO Role is based on my paper (to be presented at bITa in Boston in May) entitled "The IT Value Pyramid"This takes the six dimensions and explains the business' perception of value of each dimensionThe results are often quite surprising to CIOs who tend to related effort to value. Keeping the IT engine going takes a lot of effort, but is not greatly valued. Moving the business forward is valued.But, how do you get a seat at the table? Answer: think, talk and act business. This requires 'parking' technology and systems.The Logistics Manager doesn't want a logistics system, they want a cheaper, faster way of meeting their customer's supply demands. The Sales Manager doesn't want a CRM system, they want to know their customers' buying values, purchasing trends and future plansWhen CIOs talk in these business terms, they can participate in the discussions that set the solutions, rather than being brought in later to 'implement a CRM system'.But, we also need to be better at getting the business to specify what they REALLY need and want, so as to avoid the continuous disapppointment seen to be delivered by IT (which is not IT's fault most of the time)JED SIMMS Reply
Apr 25, 2007 9:12 AM Richard Richard  says:
There is the definite perception that the IT department is important to the overall day to day opeational funcitionality of a business but it is only a delivery system that provides sets of data, email and a vechile for daily "work". The IT department appears to be the necessary "cousin" but perhaps the most misunderstood department within an organizational structure. It is there, it is necessary but regarded as a minor player within many organizations. IT departments along with the CIO rarely ride in the "front seat". CIO's are forced to manage the company IT infrastructure with budget constraints, have minimal input regarding business operations, and have little say in corporate management as a whole.It is unfortunate because most CIO's has vast experience in a corporate setting and have the necessary knowledge and managerial skills to navigate the every changing business climate. It is the narrow thinking at the executive level that the CIO and IT department are just technology driven and have a perceived mindset that either the CIO or IT do not understand how a corporate entity should function.The companies that look at CIO's and their respective departments with disdain should remember that if it were not for CIO's and the IT departments that their companies would not be competitive and have the necessary technological resources to be extremely successful. They need to remember if they did not have the resrouceful CIO's along with the IT infrastructure how succesful would they actualy be!!!Richard A. PazIT ManagerChildren's Relief NurseryPortland, OR Reply
Apr 25, 2007 9:28 AM Sashi Sashi  says:
I will not be surprised that CIOs are struggling with improving business operations and improving business performance. Information Management (along with couple of brethren) are perceived as enablers, at least perceived to be so. The perception drives the direction. Hence CIOs are not considered to be great players with contributing to business operations and performance.The second argument roots from the first. CIO candidates typically have been application managers. Which means they have dealt with (day to day) operations almost all their lives. Unless they get to play a role in driving the business direction, unless they are involved in formulating business strategy - they don't get an opportunity to contributing to business drivers. This requires paradigm shift in the way the Board looks at the CXOs.Three, typically Information (/Technology) Management professionals grow as specialists as they grow. Its an exception to find people with broad vision of business in Information (/Technology) Management within an enterprise. Of course it would be catastrophic to imagine 'general' managers running Information (/Technology) Management. The trade off would be to cultivate a culture of business nurturing of CIO aspirants along their career progression. To sum up, business acumen is an undeniable attribute, that any business leader must have, and CIOs can't be an exception.Those were my two cents. Reply
Apr 25, 2007 9:31 AM Michael Michael  says:
I have read countless IT publications over the past ten years all talking about how the CIO and IT organizations need to partner with the business to provide better service for their needs. To now see that the CIO and IT world thinks they "get it" and understand are responsible for driving the business is, well...extremely flawed. I have yet to see an IT organization that can A. Keep up with the changing pace of the Operations, and B. Provide tools that meet the requirements of the users. Project always swing from what Operations wants, to what IT can provide. Don't get me wrong I think IT is an essential part of a Company. The role is to help the business achieve its goals by providing the tools and capabilities to be world class. Operations and IT should work hand and hand to define strategy, goals and requirements. IT should then focus on the "how" to reach those items. Personally I think the CIO position is getting to far from the technical savvy is used to carry and thus the solutions to the problems are more "out of the box" fixes than requirements satisfaction.When did being the CIO and providing for the technical and strategic needs of the business become such a bad thing? Reply
Apr 25, 2007 11:42 AM Vincent Marchionni, Jr. MBA Vincent Marchionni, Jr. MBA  says:
One thing infuriates me about the "Prototype American Manager": they are so "focused" that their attention span is too short to try to understand fundamental issues or to learn the history of issues. William Synnott coined the term CIO in the early 1980's and defined the the position to be the blending of technology knowledge and business knowledge and business acumen. We have been whining about the difficulties of being able to wear both hats since then. We have examples of other "C levels" who have business acumen and specialized knowledge. The CFO is often a CPA who rose from being chief accountant to a senior manager. The COO will be the number two senior executive, one who understands the daily operations better than the CEO but who also shows superb business acumen. (McKinsey has a great article on what it takes to be a great number 2 executive.) The solution is simple but it takes effort from the frustrated CIO's to think and act like a senior manager FIRST and not like an overpaid Data Processing Manager. You must change how you are perceived!!! If you don't have any training in business or management then go get an MBA. It won't get you a raise and you may have a hard time getting tuition reimbursement but it WILL teach you the business of business and how managers think. It isn't rocket science and you may be disappointed by how little American Managers DO think...about anything.Now a really good MBA will teach you how a manager SHOULD think and about WHAT they should think but that is for another posting.VJM Reply
Apr 26, 2007 10:37 AM Deejay Deejay  says:
I believe one of the reasons that IT is slipping from the top mgmt view is that the focus has, to a large extent been on improving EFFICIENCY of operations (reducing cycle times of transactions, coping with volumes, reducing costs, etc.), rather than the EFFECTIVENESS of business.How many CIOs / IT Heads can tell sr mgmt, with hand-on-heart, that 'Here is a superb software for strategy planning, that collects data from multiple sources, analyses the impact, and gives you the possible options.'Till this is resolved, regret that IT will remain more of an 'ops' focus rather than strategic. Reply
Apr 26, 2007 1:26 PM Ray Mutch Ray Mutch  says:
I worked in IT (Comms Projects) for 25 years and during that time saw a steady decline, in many ways dis-integration of the IT/Business realtionship.It is disaster indeed for any organisation when the IT department take on a life seemingly of their own; When IT becomes an end in itself rather than a service to the organisation of which it is a part. Yet this is I have found what happens almost inevitably.Imagine the meeting: IT have been asked to implement something for the organisation. "We cannot, we will not" they say "until the organisation specifies what it wants". Here, IT realise (and exploit) the fact that they are a service and not the 'definer' of organisational requirements that entail a technological input.It is here I believe that we can see the route of relationship breakdown. Territories are being protected, and reasons are given for inaction. There is little or no co-operation happening here and where their is no co-operation there is no relationship.For me it is little wonder that the last two 'dimensions' of the CIO role, namely, improving business operations and improving business performance are again and again thrust into the limelight. This has been happening for as long as I have been involved with IT. And of course it will continue to happen. It is not a new phenomenon. It is, if you like, the imperatives of the IT/Organisational relationship taking on a disembodied voice and speaking to its constituents telling them what is required for that relationship to come about, continue and flourish.Without this understanding I believe the conflict between the service and those who serve will continue ad-infinitum. Reply
Apr 26, 2007 3:58 PM Sam Sam  says:
This topic has been around for decades but even at this edge, there is no conclusions that suggest that CIO should report to CEOs, but the gut feel is that if a CIO reports to CFO then the role is less strategic.A CIO role should not be made more complex buy mixing it with infrastructure etc, but should be kept as "Information" that help or give business a competitive advantage. A CIO should be able to convince the BOARD that by embarking on some Information Systems strategy and guarantee the BOARD that amongst others benefits will be Increase in Revenue.It all boils down to increase in sales that increase revenue. If CIO can get this right their place in the BOARD will be there. There is not reason why a CFO can get a Board seat which a CIO cannot get. Millions of dollars are spent each year on infrastructure but the effort seems to be pointing at wrong direction. i.e "fire fighting. It this project could be focused in "getting the competitive advantage, increase in revenue becomes natural after that.But guess what the BOARD do not approve those projects because the CIO is not there to represent themselves instead CFO and COO are clueless about information technology.CIO changed long ago but is just that HR and other stake holders did not realise yet.Sam NkosiSouth Africa Reply
Apr 26, 2007 5:29 PM Vijayan Vijayan  says:
I suggest third dimension be changed from application development to application "deployment". Development is one of the possible alterntives to deployment. Being a CIO for long, I undestand business "hates" developers, the real geeks.Ideas are great. I do not think any CIO will differ. But to how to get there? Big bang or evloution? I suggest CIO first decides where he fits (according to his CEO) and "lead" -not psuh - from there. Hope the point is clear. Or does it need elaboartion?Do you know tech frightens many people, especially at Board level. CIOs need to be leaders; not pushers. Have you tried "pushning" a doneky? Donkeys can be led; not pushed. We are among donkeys, any doubts? Reply

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