Are You Misusing the CIO Title?

A message to the CIO community from the CIO Executive Council

A message to the CIO community from the CIO Executive Council.

"A CIO should be enabling the business to grow. If all the CIO does is oversee tech systems, he or she should be renamed 'tech manager'," declared Louis Ehrlich, CIO and global VP, Strategy and Service, Global Downstream, Chevron Corporation, earlier this year on the front page of the Marketplace section of the Wall Street Journal.

"The CIO title comes with a huge opportunity and responsibility," added Marc West, CIO and group president of Commercial Markets at H&R Block. "Holding this title doesn't mean much if the CIO doesn't effectively leverage the position for the greater betterment of the company."

Strong believers in the potential of the CIO, Ehrlich and West are teaming up with fellow CIO Executive Council members to try to light a fire under complacent CIOs who may be wasting their potential and undermining their prestigious CIO titles if they find themselves obediently and contentedly serving as over-glorified IT directors, order-takers and reactive service providers. Ehrlich and West agree that operational excellence, IT/business alignment and process transformation are essential to the enterprise and core responsibilities of the CIO. But they maintain that CIOs also need to expand their focus and use their unique IT knowledge and end-to-end business view to help drive, not just enable, business strategy.

This theory is central to the "Future-State CIO" program, an effort by leading members within the CIO Executive Council to define the role at its highest value and most strategic potential, and to help the business and CIO communities achieve this potential. Launched in April 2004, the CIO Executive Council is a 500+ member-strong global, professional organization focused on advancing the CIO profession through peer-to-peer mentoring, content development and strategic outreach programs. The organization defines the "Future-State CIO" role as follows:

"The future CIO's primary focus is to drive business strategy and innovation for competitive advantage. They will apply their unique cross-enterprise view of business process, architecture and the differentiating potential of technology to steer the enterprise toward new opportunity. Rather than answering primarily to internal stakeholders, future-state CIOs will be accountable to the board and to shareholders. They will be the right hand of the CEO because their unique knowledge and perspective will be critical to a 21st Century enterprise's ability to grow."

Easier said than done, right?

Maybe. But Ehrlich, West and a number of other CIOs who have had success expanding the strategic scope and influence of their roles believe it's high time for CIOs to stop with the endless excuses. With naysayers like Nick Carr continuing to take cheap shots at CIOs and spewing disinformation about IT's value, it is astonishing how little CIOs are doing to refute Carr's claims, stand up for themselves and demonstrate, once and for all, how much IT really does matter to an organization's competitive differentiation and success.

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The time is now for CIOs to change the business perspective, stop playing the order-taker or back-office operational steward and rightfully claim their place within the organization. The first step? Stop waiting for permission to act like an executive. CIOs seem all too willing to wait for the business to send a formal invitation to join the executive table. An unearned invitation will never come.

According to Ehrlich, "I always hear a lot of us talk about how we're not getting invited to the table. I used to say that, too, and I got tired of it and said: "We'll create a table.' We've got a history of feeling subservient but it's something we can change."

In short, CIOs can't wait on the business to change. They need to work to shift the business's view of IT while also establishing themselves as business strategists. And if the business is too antiquated to accept a future-state CIO? Find a new employer that does.

What can you do?

The CIO Executive Council's Future-State CIO program is more than a tough love speech to the CIO community. The organization, working with internationally renowned executive recruiter and executive assessment firm Egon Zehnder, has created assessment tools that measure CIOs' capabilities in nine core executive competencies:

  • 1. Strategic Orientation: the ability to think long-term, leveraging business awareness, critical analysis and integration of information to develop an action-oriented plan
  • 2. Results Orientation: a focus on improvement of business results
  • 3. Commercial Orientation: identifying and seizing opportunities to increase profit and revenue
  • 4. Market Knowledge: understanding the market, including competition, suppliers, customer base and regulatory environment
  • 5. External Customer Impact: serving and building value-added relationships with customers or clients
  • 6. Collaboration and Influence: working effectively with others, including internal customers, who do not work for you to have a positive impact on business performance
  • 7. People and Organizational Development: developing long-term capabilities of others and the organization as a whole
  • 8. Change Leadership: transforming and aligning an organization through its people to drive for improvement in a new and challenging direction
  • 9. Team Leadership: focusing, aligning, and building effective groups in one's immediate organization

The CIO's score constitutes his/her "Executive Quotient", or EQ and indicates the leader's relative ability to be a future-state CIO. In addition, CIO Executive Council members developed a business readiness assessment tool to determine a how prepared an organization is to embrace an expanded, strategic CIO role shift. This is important because - as many CIOs will attest - the CIO's capabilities do not always align with an organization's expectation or need.

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A Visual Model

Both the EQ and the Business Readiness scores are plotted on the Future-State CIO Model, which depicts the CIO's allocation of time (or focus) across the three fundamental aspects of the role: function head, transformational leader and business strategist. The higher the CIO's EQ, the more well-equipped he/she is to spend the majority of his/her time as a business strategist (the future-state red zone).

The difference between the CIO's EQ and the business's readiness score indicates the "Expectation/Capability Gap". Many CIO Executive Council members refer to this gap as the "the extreme frustration zone". However, these same members are also quick to note that visual images of the "expectation gap" or "frustration zone" are intended to fuel CIOs into action, not excuses. Indeed, the goal of the Future-State CIO program is to close the expectation/credibility gap while shifting both the CIO's capabilities and the business's expectations to the right and making way for the CIO to devote the lion's share of his/her time to business strategy. CIOs ready to take this step need to regard the Future-State CIO program as an obligation vs an option.

"CIOs have long been too focused on budget and operations as the measures of their value," West says. "With technology becoming a more significant source of competitive advantage for our business, CIOs need to shift their focus from the costs of technology to the revenue potential of technology."

As Ehrlich told Wall Street Journal reporter Pui-Wing Tam ("CIO Jobs Morph From Tech Support Into Strategy," in February 20, 2007), "The CIO title is misused frankly."

Are YOU misusing your CIO title? And if yes, what are you going to do to change that?