Executive Careers Blog

Info to Innovation: A CIO’s Job Description Evolves

Dr. Shami Khorana|President, HCL America

“CIOs are being asked by their CEOs to help develop new offerings for customers. That means the “I” in CIO now stands for innovation, not information.” - Ronald Blahnik, VP/IT Engineering, Lowe’s Co.

“The CIO must be viewed throughout the organization as a trusted business partner and leader.” - Dean Del Vecchio, CIO and CAO/Corporate, Dow Jones & Co .

“For IT to drive business transformation, an IT leader must couple a CEO-like grasp of emerging business strategies within his or her industry with CTO-like understanding of emerging technologies outside of that industry.” - Walter White, CAO, Allianz Life Insurance Co.

As these comments from senior executives suggest, the idea that a CIO must be both an IT leader and a business strategist is not a new one. However, despite all the talk of getting a seat at the strategy table, most CIOs have yet to get the memo.

Image Source | Getty Images

So what exactly prevents IT from expanding beyond its traditional support function and how can CIOs become more strategic business leaders?

While some of the barriers are external — the longstanding relegation of IT to an organizational “ghetto”, where people aren’t exposed to business issues, for example – many exist within the individual. Removing personal barriers may require a fundamental change in how you view your capabilities and responsibilities.

Regardless of your industry, the challenge is the same. After years of taking that back seat regarding business strategy, it is time for a more enlightened and evolved professional state.

It is time to become a “Reincarnate CIO.”

Reincarnate CIOs are accountable to the CEO and business unit heads, who set strategy, and to the COO and CFO, who oversee operations and the cost of running them. They serve as a change agent within the organization by emphasizing communication and transparency and using negotiating skills while building numerous partner relationships. And, in many cases, they apply their new skill sets and make the leap to COO, CEO and even Board of Director positions.

A few who’ve made this transformation include:

  • James Barksdale, former CIO for FedEx who later became the company’s EVP and COO. He was also CEO of AT&T Wireless, as well as Netscape, now part of b .
  • Michael Capellas, former CIO and COO of Compaq Computer, now part of HP, where he once served as President and later became CEO of WorldCom (later MCI) and First Data Corp. Capellas is now CEO of Acadia Enterprises.
  • Dawn Lepore, former CIO of Charles Schwab Corp. , who later became CEO of Drugstore.com until its acquisition by Walgreen Co.

So, what are the steps to becoming a Reincarnate CIO?

1) Reboot your thinking – become more knowledgeable about your business and your industry. A typical IT mindset can trap executives in a techno-centric thinking – a view of the corporate world that doesn’t encourage support from corporate leadership.

2) Align IT and business strategy. There’s an interesting litmus test of a CIO’s business orientation: ask him who his customers are. Ask yourself. If you immediately think the Procurement Department folks who call about glitches in your new ERP system, you fail the test.

3) Focus on ROI. One sure way to align IT with business — and to earn the respect of senior business executives — is to measure the ROI of IT investments in terms of their business benefits.

4) Track and capture business data and then measure its value to the company. Tracking data has become easier. The problem is that many organizations have no idea what data they’ve accumulated or what to do with it.

Many CIOs now recognize the opportunity to establish methods for better analyzing the raw information, moving operations data through the IT layer to provide insights and intelligence that will help business decision making. An enlightened CIO has a dashboard with predictive indicators that are more actionable and real-time than a typical passive business dashboard.

5) Rethink the nature of partner relationships. CIOs must develop their relationship-building skills with business partners, which works best when you have access to everything they have learned and can then leverage the changing landscape.

In today’s world of frequent technological change, a CIO can live the equivalent of multiple lives in a single career, over a single lifetime.

6) Demonstrate patience. The transformation doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a journey, both for the CIO and for his or her organization.

Shami Khorana is president of HCL Technologies America, Inc., the global services arm of $3.6 billion HCL Enterprise. Mr. Khorana is responsible for managing U.S. operations and accelerating HCL’s growth in the U.S. A recognized leader in business strategy and technology implementation, Khorana is responsible for customer engagements across verticals, including life sciences, high-technology, retail, auto, financial services, and in such domains as enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, content management and other services.