by July 4, 2009 0 comments

The past few years have seen executives with newer and more innovative
designations taking charge in many big organizations: Chief Compliance Officer,
Chief Risk Officer and Chief Technology Officers, etc. Amongst all these
designations, the one officer that has gained prominence over years is the Chief
Information Officer (CIO). The role of a CIO originated in the early days of IT
because other executives, namely CEO or CFO, were not supposed to have the
knowledge of technology. CIOs were therefore meant to manage the use of
technology for an enterprise’s business requirements. These CIOs rose from the
ranks of techies and were responsible to manage IT deployments from as basic as
an enterprise network to as complex as an ERP system. It was considered a
difficult job due to the complex and integrated nature of business with the then
available modern technology. The creation of CIO position was a rational
decision for an enterprise to manage its technology needs for business. But,
this role of a CIO no longer exists. It has evolved to be much more demanding
and more focused towards the business.

The modern-day CIO is not merely managing the IT needs of his organization,
but is finding himself to be at the decision-making table amongst other C-level
executives. He is the right hand for the CEO, and has an equal say in
implementing business strategies for the organization. As enterprises are
trying to be more efficient through process automation, and have more global
presence in the competitive environment, it is the CIO who is leading the charge
on how to achieve that in a low-cost and efficient manner.

N Nataraj,
Chief Information Officer, Hexaware Technologies

A CIO should keep himself abreast with the latest developments in
technology and its effective usage. He has to work as the right-hand of the
CEO in ensuring that business delivers the best, in the least possible time.
‘Time to Market’ is one component where a CIO can contribute a lot by using
the latest technology. He has to understand business challenges and the
opportunities on the horizon. A CIO also has to keep himself updated on
various checks and balances that can be put in place and understand various
security standards and their relevance to the organization.

The role of a CIO is something that has evolved over the past 25 years.
Managers of Information Systems of yesteryears have transformed from being pure
technology leaders to business managers. The reason for this being, the change
in the way technology impacts life today. 25 years back, IT was seen as an
enabler for doing better business, today it is IT that runs a business. Hence,
IT strategy and an enterprise’s business are no longer differentiated from one
another, rather these two go hand in hand.

Eventually, for every enterprise it is the ‘profit’ that matters from their
investments. It is the responsibility of the CIO to deliver and communicate
profits from an IT investment to the management of the organization.

Craig Hergenroether, Chief Information Officer,
Barry-Wehmiller Companies, Inc.

A CIO is expected to continuously improve technology, which is backed by
huge budgetary spends in normal times. In uncertain times prevailing now,
the CIO is expected to bring in technology innovations that can cut costs,
but with stricter budgets than before. We have been fairly successful in
achieving this through better consolidation and optimization of technology
infrastructure throughout the group. The CIO needs to keep himself abreast
with the way business processes are executed across the industry that he is
in. He can also do a lot of good if he can implement best practices in
business processes from other industries too.

New-age CIO
If we trace back the role of a CIO in past, he was a person who manged the
infrastructure of the company. And primarily hardware and software constituted
the core of the IT infrastructure during those days. Now the focus has shifted
to providing IT systems as a value add-on to the enterprise, and this value
add-on is of two kinds: one is to identify what kind of investment is being made
and correspondingly what value does it adds to the business processes. These IT
systems when used provide some process form indicator matrices like enhancement
of productivity, on-time delivery, quality and customer satisfaction, etc, when
they interact with the enterprise’s business environment. For instance, how a
service based model will work for the enterprise or how can virtualization be
beneficial for the organization’s business or what social networking tools could
be used for enterprise’s intranet portal. The performance of these indicators
which IT is expected to provide is directly related to the CIO who is supposed
to make this transition happen. Therefore the CIO’s role which was focused on
technology and getting the people to build and operate applications has
transitioned into understanding the business needs from a competitor’s
perspective to customer profiling of the business, to understanding the key
strategies that enterprises are trying to achieve in short term and in the long
run. The role of the CIO thus, has extended from just IT infrastructure
management to business management as well now. They are also required in the
business transformation process. Hence, today’s CIO is not just a “reliable
service provider” but also a “transformational partner”, helping the
organization transform with the ever-changing business scenario.

SV Ramana,
Chief Information Officer, Tulip Telecom

The CIO is not just required to be only a technology person but also a
business oriented person understanding the market, customers, sales,
competition and therefore he is now an intermediary between the technology
and business. To be a CIO, a person ideally should have to be from
technology background to incorporate new
technologies in the organization. He has to understand the trends and
technologies which are happening across the globe related to what his
business needs in the organization and see how minimally he can add value
through minimum costs, because a lot of investments in IT infrastructure are
not being used by organizations per se.

Duties a modern CIO adorns
Today, there’s a greater focus on strategy in the CIO’s role. He has to look at
areas such as business-IT alignment, finding out ways for IT to streamline the
business processes for value or supply chain efficiencies, or evaluating
business opportunities in new technologies. Moving ahead from IT

infrastructure management, the role of today’s CIO encompasses following
areas:
Law and compliance issues – With increasingly complex regulations
emerging, CIOs are required to design and build business processes, systems and
organizational structures that not only are compliant with today’s stringent
rules, but also anticipate the direction of future regulations.
IT and Business integration – Information and technology are levers for
trimming and simplifying business processes for the organizations, and building
stronger, more effective partnerships and supplier relationships. CIOs are
taking a leadership role by showing business executives what IT can do for them
and for the organization’s profits.
Creating value – CIOs must work with their fellow business leaders to
shift projects and assets to areas most likely to generate returns, and shed or
streamline assets and operations that are destroying value.
Managing risks – Need to identify threats, balance risk and cost, and
test vulnerabilities, plans and assumptions
to ensure the safety of goods, people, information and facilities.

Muralikrishna K.,
Vice President and Head, Computers & Communication Division, Infosys
Technologies

A CIO needs a strong understanding of all the processes in an
organization to analyze where these can be effectively automated. They need
to appreciate the needs of the key stakeholders in the organization because
they have the task of enhancing their decision-making. A CIO has to
frequently work with external suppliers and clients to eliminate costs by
fashioning intricate supply chains. They record the business accounting
details and work intimately with the finance department in producing the
quarterly reports. Then they have to manage people and projects. Finally,
they find themselves at the cutting edge of all the business trends because
of the ramifications these have on IT. To be a CIO, one has to develop the
necessary skills and experience and understand their strengths and
weaknesses. A key tool that is necessary for a move in career to the
business side is education.

Career path
There is no strict career path that one needs to follow to reach the position of
a CIO. Anyone who has a deep understanding of the way business thrives in the
industry they are in, coupled with good understanding and appreciation of
technology, can become a CIO. One also needs to keep himself abreast of latest
in technology to get to the top.

A professional who eyes the coveted designation of the CIO has multiple paths
to follow. One, goes through the development-the person will have ample software
development skills and knack to deal with software related problems. He can
begin his journey as a developer, and then gradually while walking on this path
and crossing the milestones like senior developer, team leader, module leader,
center head, he is ready to adorn the garb of a CIO. Because by that time, he
would have had enough exposure to manage delivery and development of major
projects and major systems across the organization’s business processes.

Ahmed Mahmoud
Global CIO, AMD

The CIO should keep himself abreast with latest technologies that will
give him essence of the industry trends. My advice to CIO aspirants would be
to broaden their business acumen by gaining experience across organization’s
business processes. I have noticed a lot of young folks work hard to advance
quickly up the career ladder and in doing so they do not add substance to
their capabilities. They should try to get business knowledge of various
business processes, and if a person is in a leadership position, then he
should try to support various parts of businesses like HR, finance,
operations, etc rather then restricting himself to one function. This way he
would develop the necessary business acumen, as by then he would have done
jobs in all IT supporting aspects of the business. This is the kind of
experience that enterprises seek from prospective CIO candidates, as
experience can only be gained and not taught.

The other path that one can proceed through goes through the operations side.
He can start off as an Operations Engineer, and then hone his operational and
management skills by getting into the shoes of: a team leader of operations, the
head of operations (who manages larger teams managing operations), and the
Project management head. After this, he has got a fair chance of becoming a CIO,
but quality and excellence are the other must-haves.

What it takes to be a CIO
To be a CIO, certain necessary skills and experience are required but besides
this an understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses must be there; this
helps when they have to deal with issues that pertain to technology or people
management. A CIO should have the knack for technology, but it is not necessary
that he has to be from a technology background, though an engineering background
is the initial requirement, good educational qualifications are one of the
pre-requisites along with a degree or diploma in business administration.
Managerial skills are also very important and an MBA degree would be significant
in pursuing a career as a CIO.

Sumit Chaudhary,
CIO, Reliance Communications

He should definitely be an engineer. A reason why engineering degree is
required is because engineers are taught to work within constraints and
there is never an open book that provides all solutions. So they have to
come to terms with technology and financial constraints and find solutions
to business problems within those constraints. They have to come back to the
top management with the solutions and one of the necessary skills which
engineers are taught is to understand and break down a problem into
manageable chunks and then put a solution for it. CIOs need to have a
business management background to sell, communicate, do business cases.
Business communication, presentation skills and people management skills are
other pre-requisites. A CIO must undergo some form of training in risk
management because they are chartered to manage risks for businesses.

The top management would any day prefer a person who understands their
business. So, if a CIO is where you see yourself tomorrow, or want to be say
five to ten years down the line, understand the business you are in, obtain the
appropriate cross-functional experience that is required to move up the
corporate ladder and you are all set to go.

Today’s CIOs are not just ‘geeks’, but a planner, a strategist and have
enough business acumen to achieve profitability and success for their
enterprises.

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