Business leaders have, in my opinion, four areas of focus. Run the business, grow the business, change the business and save the business. ‘Market conditions dictate how their attention is allocated.
This in turn impacts those that report into the boardroom. In most cases the CIO is more a victim than a driver of that decision-making process and is typically constrained to the ‘run' agenda - and, in this market, doing so while suffering indiscriminate budget cuts.
Of course there are boardroom-grade CIOs and even CIOs that are CEOs, but these are exceptions. The IT industry as a whole has not created a compelling value case for extending its influence beyond technology matters.
Possibly this is a branding issue? IT and technology are of course entwined. However CIO doesn't stand for Chief IT Officer. And in my experience the CIO is often branded as a technology manager, as opposed to a leader that uses technology to deliver information, knowledge and innovation to those that need it, when and where it is needed.
How many times have you been asked either by a CxO or even a friend to address a technology matter? In their eyes you are the ‘laptop guy'. With this branding, how can you be taken seriously when you attempt to engage strategically? To make this more vivid, imagine you are the CEO and have been approached by the catering manager with some suggestions for changing the business model.
Clearly, this is a branding issue. And one that CIOs will struggle with unless the IT industry as a whole gets its value proposition act together. This problem will, however, resolve itself over time. Generation Y users and business leaders will see to that, as will technology outsourcers.
However, you need to consider your career prospects, even if the short-term focus is to remain in employment. The first step is to establish whether your boardroom perceives IT as strategically important. If this is not the case then start planning your move to an organisation that ‘gets IT'. You do not have the time or the industry branding to support any attempts at evangelism.
But be cognisant of the fact that just because the board doesn't get IT, it doesn't mean that you have the necessary competencies to take on a politically-charged, top table, strategy-driven leadership position. It is not enough for you to know which companies have a track record for embracing IT strategically. You need to be sure they perceive you as 21st-century CIO material. The skills that got you to where you are today will not take you to the next level.
If you conclude there is a gap between where you are competency-wise and where you need to be, then treat this period prior to changing companies as an opportunity to develop the broader skills required. Keep in mind that the companies that invest in IT in a downturn are typically the one's that retain their market position in an upturn. So if your organisation is treating IT as just another cost to be capped, then it may well be prudent to jump ship.
Conversely, you could use this fact to your advantage and become a business hero. However, you would be wise to get an independent assessment of your influencing skills as your CEO is most likely to be in herd-mode and so it will boil down to your perspective versus the collective ‘wisdom' of your CEO's peers.
But it is possible. I have seen major organisations go from slow technology follower to technology leader in their market because the CIO focused his pitch on the role of IT in cutting costs beyond the IT function. Reminding the CEO of the customer-experience implications of cutting costs indiscriminately led to this particular CIO becoming the COO.
As technology becomes relatively less important, CIOs need to secure positions that take them deeper into the business, while retaining ownership of what will remain of the IT function. Now is the time to be planning your future.
About the author:
Ade McCormack advises business leaders on IT matters. Visit Ade McCormack's blog at www.auridian.com.