At the other end of the spectrum we have high-IT intensity companies, where technology is a core business function. Within these companies, the CIO will take on a broader role in defining and executing the strategy of the company. A driver of IT decisions at such companies is likely to be whether IT fosters business innovation or creates products. In this environment, the IT leader is a key business leader.
My role as Ameritrade's CIO (before I became COO in August) was to create a high-performance, innovative culture within the IT organization. This role required me to develop a comprehensive understanding of all key business functions, the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats affecting each, and how this information related to the company's strategy. CIOs who develop such knowledge have the opportunity to offer strategic insight to their business peers, which in turn enables them to participate in strategy development.
CIOs at high-IT intensity companies must also excel at communication. However, the role of strategic leader means this CIO's influence extends beyond the technology group and the corporate management team. In the high-IT intensity environment, the CIO becomes a key external "face" for the organization, requiring both charisma and a keen business sense.
Leading the Evolution
No matter which type of company we work for, of course, we have to understand the interconnectedness of technology and overall business strategy. Our ability to provide corporate leadership, not just IT leadership, will be the key to becoming whichever type of CIO our companies need. At every company, today's CIO is expected to enable the business strategy by, among other things, keeping budgets flat, providing transparency and driving change across the organization.
To figure out which future role is right for your company, ask yourself whether IT provides a competitive advantage or is an integral support function. If you rank operational efficiency or client service as a core competency, you are less IT-intensive. If IT cannot be separated from the business and is essential to your products, you're in a high-IT intensity business. Once you have the answer, your challenge is to buy or develop the talent that will enable you to move in the direction required to support the strategy of your firm.
Though it may seem as if the times ahead are uncertain, those of us who have dedicated our careers to the pursuit of exceptional IT leadership are on the cusp of something extraordinary. The changes in store for the CIO have potential to afford more opportunities for IT leaders than ever before.
Current and aspiring CIOs will be able to write their own tickets - to choose the type of organization they want to work in. These choices will be based on each CIO's skills, interest and sometimes the specific opportunity offered. And whatever you choose, you can continue to play an important role in your company's success.
Asiff Hirji served as CIO with Ameritrade from 2003 until August 2005, when he was promoted to COO
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