Mindsets of the Indian CIO

Some of my readers are intrigued that they don’t get to read about the IT industry in this column. They get to read everything other than IT related things. So this time, let me broach a subject related to IT – it is about IT leadership.

Sometime back, I had the opportunity to speak at a Cyber India Online event on the subject of the ‘chief information officer (CIO) as a business strategist’. During the interaction, I conducted a poll on two things. What will the Indian CIO’s strategic imperative be in 2010? Secondly, what does he consider as his own inadequacy from a strategic perspective? Fifty-nine top Indian CIOs responded to the survey. Let us take a look at the findings.

Twenty-six per cent of them thought that growth and expansion will be the key strategic imperatives in 2010. That is what they are marching towards. Twenty-three per cent said increased customer orientation; 15 per cent felt it is about increased people orientation. Only 11 per cent thought that technology, as a business enabler, is the strategic imperative for 2010. Business process restructuring, response to external change, and focus on profitability – each of these engaged 9, 8 and 6 per cent of the respondents respectively. Only 2 per cent felt knowledge is a key strategic imperative for 2010.

After the last few years of uncertainty, the Indian economy looks poised to move to the next level. The self-confidence to take on global competition is pervasive among Indian companies, and the sheer size of the domestic market is making the canvas interesting. In that context, growth as the strategic issue makes sense. It is what CIOs are hearing from their bosses. This is somewhat linked to the 23 per cent response on customer orientation – I find the two to be inter-connected. So the challenge really becomes, how to use technology to open new business avenues and engage with existing customers?

Now to shift gears to what the Indian CIO thinks as his strategic shortcoming vis-à-vis the future. Eighteen per cent said they had a behavioural gap to fill. Another 17 per cent felt they must further improve their own IT knowledge. This wasn’t surprising, given the rapid technological changes and the often bewildering impacts of convergence. Add to that, the arrival of an increasingly tech-savvy and younger workforce. Sometimes they know more than you. Fifteen per cent of respondents felt they lack the leadership skills to play a central role in their organisations, and 13 per cent felt they need to cultivate more business knowledge. Nine per cent thought they lack people skills, 6 per cent had concerns about health and family, and 5 per cent had concerns about growth. Finally, 4 per cent each felt they lack creativity, customer focus and time management skills.

The survey threw two interesting points in my mind. How come only 4 per cent of the CIOs polled thought of knowledge as a key imperative, while in the same breath they think of  business expansion and customer intimacy as strategic? How will they get to these imperatives without a complete and new look at how IT can be used to build and distribute knowledge in and beyond the system? And how is it that only 4 per cent of the CIOs identify creativity as a strategic gap? Are we already high on creativity or is it a case of knowing not, what we know not?

The time has come for CIOs to think deeply about knowledge and creativity. These, and not technology, will be key differentiators in the next five years. Enabling these two will be critical for them to become partners to business functions. Globalisation in terms of customer, supplier, employee, technology and capital bases will make issues complex, real time and unscripted. IT would become a vehicle to expand and deliver the organisation’s neural capacity.

It is unlikely that the directive will come with a clear mandate from the top. The CIO will have to be much more frontal, much more proactive. Many of them are in the mode in which they want to be the tail to the strategy dog. That must change as a mindset. The million-dollar question: is the Indian CIO ready for a makeover?

Thursday September 25th 2014

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