Bridge the confidence gap

Bridge the confidence gap

Information executives who want to rise to the top must demonstrate competence in three key dimensions of their organisations' IT operations.

Chief information officers want to be seen as visionaries within their organisations. Usually bestowed with higher-than-average intellect and unique insight into the workings of their companies, they are able to make a large contribution towards both organisational growth and innovation. Yet, curiously, this rarely happens.

CIOs aspiring to be regarded as peers within the upper echelons of management must be seen as delivering not just business value, but possessing competency that transcends mere technical management expertise.

The global financial crisis heightened the need for CIOs to create value. In late 2008, at the peak of the crisis, McKinsey Quarterly published its survey of more than 500 senior business and technology executives internationally, which found significant gaps between business and IT priorities.

The findings correlate with those arrived at by our organisation, IBRS, when interviewing senior executives, who expect an increased contribution from IT in developing new product and service offerings, as well as a greater focus by IT on improving business processes.

An intriguing paradox has been revealed: IT executives want to make a more meaningful business contribution and business executives want strategic IT input. This would seem an easy situation to correct, but tacit barriers block resolution.

IBRS observes a confidence gap that ¬precludes senior information officers from taking that next vital step.

"Nothing in IT is actually broken and the service is okay," one chief executive we interviewed said, "but I feel we're just marking time with our use of technology."

This CEO had marginal confidence in the ability of the CIO to deliver quality IT service and was therefore reluctant to become engaged with him in discussions on topics higher up the value chain.

Worse, there was a suggestion that the ¬organisation was being held back technologically, a fact confirmed as our consulting ¬engagement continued.

To gain favourable attention from other business chiefs, CIOs need to master three key dimensions of IT management, and they need to be pursued and delivered serially.

In the first, CIOs must demonstrate IT ¬asset and infrastructure management mastery. In the second, they must do the same with IT project and program delivery. The third ¬dimension is where they must be able to ¬demonstrate their heightened capacity for delivering business value.

From a senior executive standpoint, the CIO who achieves mastery in the first of these dimensions wins permission to provide leadership in the second, and so on. While this may seem self-evident, our consulting engagements reinforce its truth.

Unless IT services are operating well and perceived as such by senior executives, it is difficult for the CIO to proselytise, then gain traction, in meaningful discussions on topics such as IT portfolio management.

Key competencies required of the CIO in the first dimension are that they:

  • Show themselves to be service-oriented in all client engagements.
  • Are focused on metrics and performance management.
  • Are prepared to micro-manage to achieve targeted outcomes.
  • Are respected and visible to staff.
  • Form strong relationships with vendors.
  • In the second dimension, they must:
  • Build strong relationships with the business, earning respect and trust.
  • Lead by focusing on all requirements of ¬business .
  • Avoid client (and vendor) temptation to gold-plate solutions.
  • Minimise the risk of leaving other parties feeling aggrieved by being transparent when making key decisions.

In the last dimension, they must:

  • Establish sound relationships at executive level and with the board, earning respect across the business ecosystem through their involvement in appropriate forums.
  • Demonstrate their strategic focus and ability to communicate the big picture.
  • Apply chief executive thinking to the ¬management of IT, regularly focusing on opportunities and methods for putting the organisation in a leading role.

For many, moving from dimension one to two is relatively easy, as most CIOs have grounding in these areas. However, many do not easily advance to the third. MIS

Rob McKinnon is an adviser with IBRS. Email comments to

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