The CIO role can ‘disappear’ but only for the right reasons, asserts Marcel van den Assum, a professional director and independent advisor. By this, says the former Fonterra CIO, “You have got to the point of maturity in your organisation where the executive leadership has embedded IS principles and understanding, and that is a reflection of the information revolution having run its course.”
Van den Assum is responding to an article in CIO ‘The disappearing role?’ (March 2008) in which a former CIO turned business consultant asserted that given the number of CIO roles being disestablished in the past two years, there are some organisations that don’t need a CIO.
“I think 60 to 70 per cent of our organisations do need a true IS leadership or CIO capability and I suggest only half of those have anything near that,” says van den Assum, a member of CIOmagazine’s editorial advisory board.
This business consultant quoted in the article, who requested anonymity, said, “The first question companies need to ask themselves is, do they need a strategic technology vision? If the answer is no, they either outsource their IT or they get an IT manager to run the current operations, who then reports to the CFO to make sure the costs are aligned with what the business is prepared to spend.”
Van den Assum says it is disappointing the business consultant quoted in the March article was not prepared to put himself or herself out there. “You can’t lead a significant change from under a bushel.
“By staying quiet nobody knows who you are and you can not get the support.”
Van den Assum then focuses on the business consultant’s argument that an IT manager is enough for some organisations where IS is not “strategic”. He argues a greater emphasis should be for CIOs to encourage the right level of leadership and capability, which will allow IS to be a strategic enabler and the source of market competitiveness.
He suggests a number of organisations that are doing away with the CIO role are taking the “easy [way] out, perhaps not emphasising the information aspect the way it should, or perhaps accepting that they have got average IS leadership capabilities”.
He says one of the reasons the CIO role is a challenging position is that it requires a mixture of soft and hard skills. “The person you interviewed reflected that in the article. The [CIO] leadership requires a lot of effort, of engagement, and the maturity of the executive and the board.
“The real issue is going to be an indictment for many organisations. This disappearing role, as pitched in the article, is happening for the wrong reasons: Inability to formally develop a strategic link between the IS asset, inability to attract the right people and running IT as a service as opposed to an enabler and a catalyst.
“If the strategic linkages are not apparent… the question about retaining a CIO quickly becomes a cost based discussion,” he says.
“The IS leader is often looking to build an IS strategic plan that is truly linked with the business strategy, but finds there isn’t a well developed strategic plan,” he notes. “A true CIO will use that opportunity to help the business produce a business strategic plan.”
So what should a CIO do when he or she finds himself in this situation? Van den Assum says it is important to have a good team that can enable the CIO to engage in more strategic work. “A CIO can become isolated because the team does not have the capability to enable them to grow and engage with the business. They are being dragged back into technology and IT management issues. It simply reinforces the perception in the executive that the CIO is a techo.”
Another issue that is vital, says Marcel, is to be concerned about the governance of the organisation, rather than the structure. “The reporting line of the CIO in a way does not matter,” says van den Assum. “The reality is if the governance structure enables the CIO to interact as an equal with the executives, then that is just as effective.”
Van den Assum says it is also important for CIOs to network within the business and outside. “CIOs that are out there operating at that level can benefit greatly from peer to peer interaction. They really need to treat the wider marketplace as a goldmine of information and good opportunities to re-energise.
“Attend conferences, supplier conferences, peer groups, CIO forums,” he advises. “It is like going to a fuel tank. You get re-motivated and energised because you are dealing with people who are very familiar with the situation you are in and the challenges you face.”
© Fairfax Business Media
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