A New Day Is Coming; Are You Ready?

By John McCormick Print this article Print

A new day may be dawning for CIOs. Will they be ready?

It seems like a new day is starting to dawn for chief information officers.

In February, CIO Insight—which, like Baseline, is a Ziff Davis publication—reported that the 429 CIOs who responded to its annual budget survey expected that their information-technology spending would be up 7.6% this year—the largest year-over-year increase the magazine has ever recorded. The editors then went on to say, "But that shouldn't be surprising, given what we've learned in our recent surveys: CIOs are focusing more on growth and improving service than on cost reduction."

Also last month, Gartner released a report titled "Creating Enterprise Leverage: The 2007 CIO Agenda." The report, based on a survey of 1,400 CIOs, found information chiefs saying their enterprises were focusing on fast growth. "CIOs are aware of the business priorities in 2007 and the need to improve processes, workforce performance and attract new customers," Gartner said.

While forward-thinking CIOs have always designed and deployed information technologies they believed would give their companies a competitive advantage, the typical mission for CIOs over the past couple of years has been to use information systems to cut costs and improve corporate efficiencies.

"It a 180-degree turn," says Mark McDonald, group vice president and head of research for Gartner's Executive Programs.

But do CIOs know what's really expected of them, and will they be able to seize the day?

McDonald says that chief information officers can't rely on traditional moves, such as improving operational efficiency, reducing information-technology costs and automation, to meet their company's mandate to raise corporate performance and build new capabilities with information technology. CIOs, he says, need to reprioritize their works. He adds that CIOs can create what he calls "enterprise leverage," which can help them push their businesses forward by focusing on four key areas:

  1. Technology, which can help improve operational scale and performance.
  2. Agility, which, when mastered, can help manage the speed, scale, cost and risk of corporate transformation through applying change management disciplines.
  3. Information, which gives managers the business insight and understanding that's required to act in a changing environment.
  4. Innovation, which calls for bringing new ideas to market by evolving current capabilities, implementing new capabilities and gaining market acceptance for change.

But to take advantage of this leverage, CIOs need to look around and make sure that they're focusing their resources on projects that are worth doing—that will really make a difference to the corporate bottom line. And they need to set deadlines and make sure they deliver promised services on time.

What are the projects CIOs are looking at to improve their company's performance?

Gartner came out with a list of top technology priorities for CIOs—business intelligence, enterprise systems such as customer relationship management software, legacy modernization, and security were all at or near the top of the list.

This mirrors the findings of Baseline's annual list of Top 10 Projects (see p. 17), which also lists business intelligence, CRM, legacy systems upgrades, and security, among others, as top technologies.

So, it appears that CIOs have their technology priorities straight. But as McDonald points out, making technology initiatives happen rests on the skill of the company's information-technology workforce—systems have to be delivered and, when deployed, they have to work well. And the only way to do this is to have technically skilled people who understand what the business wants and how it works. "As you create forms of leverage," he says, "you need the skills to make a contribution."

But here is the big disconnect. McDonald says that when CIOs are asked what they need, the overwhelming majority says people with core business skills. Yet, when asked where they're going to get their future workforce, most say from other information-technology shops.

As McDonald puts it: "CIOs need to get their own expectations in line."

This article was originally published on 2007-03-07
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