1 in 10 CIOs want to be a 'revolutionary'

Think your organization's IT potential is being wasted? You're not alone. A new survey of IT execs shows a longing for much greater impact on the business

Last July, Deloitte surveyed nearly 1,000 IT executives, most of them at the director or VP level, about the role of the CIO in their organization. The news flash: There's a sizable gulf between what IT departments are doing and what companies -- and presumably the CIOs who participated in this survey -- think they ought to be doing.

When asked how the companies view the CIO's role, nearly a third replied "steward" instead of "strategist" or "revolutionary." But that's not how IT execs want to be viewed. More than half of those surveyed said IT's primary function should be enabling growth and enhancing productivity, while a third said IT should offer a competitive advantage. Roughly 1 out of 10 respondents believe the CIO should be a "revolutionary."

Sounds like there are a lot of frustrated IT execs out there are playing Angry Birds but dreaming of more.

What exactly does "revolutionary" mean in this context? I asked Matt Law and Suketu Gandhi, the two Deloitte principals who compiled the survey, how a "revolutionary" CIO differs from a "strategic" one.

It boils down to someone who uses disruptive technologies to his or her advantage, says Gandhi. A strategic CIO identifies a problem and comes up with a technological solution. A revolutionary understands what business the company is in and uses tech to create new revenue streams or radical new ways to deliver services.

For example, a strategic CIO will say, "Hey, we can save buckets of money on paper and ink by using electronic receipts instead of printed ones," says Gandhi. A revolutionary CIO will tie those electronic receipts into the company's customer loyalty program, use that data to analyze their buying behavior, send them emails telling them how much money they've saved and how they can save even more, and then lure the customers into the company's social media networks.

Sounds great, doesn't it? But with CIOs under constant pressure to cut budgets, coupled with equal pressure to incorporate the latest cloud solutions and mobile device du jour, who's going to pay for all these groovy new initiatives?

The answer isn't especially revolutionary: IT still must cut costs and share the pain with the business side. Instead of spending 85 percent of the IT budget keeping the lights on and the data center humming, smart CIOs use outsourcing and managed services to cut that down to 50 or 55 percent -- giving them more flexibility on how they spend the rest, says Gandhi.

When marketing wants to launch a big social media campaign or the sales team demands Salesforce.com, the CIO needs the negotiating savvy to make sure that money comes out of the sales and marketing budgets, not IT's, he adds.

Of course, the sticky thing about revolutions is that somebody usually ends up having their head separated from their neck. A successful IT rebellion requires a CEO or CFO who's willing to have at least some of their power usurped.

"This is not the French Revolution," says Gandhi. "We're not talking about cutting off the king's head. The kings will still be there, but they'll have to change how they operate significantly."

It also requires a CIO with the influence of a Rasputin and the negotiating skills of a labor organizer; who can manage up, down, and sideways; negotiate with other department heads; stay on top of the latest technologies; keep abreast of core industry trends; and teach his or her staff how to move at the speed of business -- or risk getting left behind.

"CIOs need to elevate their role beyond that of being a steward," says Deloitte's Law. "Otherwise they end up just being a compliance or vendor manager -- and that's no fun."

This story, "1 in 10 CIOs want to be a 'revolutionary'," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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