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The Pathway to CIO

The Pathway to CIO

Sometimes the business just doesn’t recognise what the best CIOs provide

Carsten Larsen, Executive Manager Information Services, Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)

Carsten Larsen, Executive Manager Information Services, Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)

Being More Than an ‘Able Pragmatist’

Late last year, the IBM Institute for Business Value went to the trouble of interviewing more than 2500 CIOs around the world for its Global CIO Study — the largest face-to-face study of CIOs ever conducted. The study’s report, “The New Voice of the CIO”, found that successful CIOs do three things: drive innovation, improve return on investment and increase the impact IT has on the business.

To achieve all this, says IBM, CIOs need to blend two roles for each goal. Innovative CIOs are both “insightful visionary” and “able pragmatist”. ROI zealots combine being a “savvy value creator” with “relentless cost cutter”. And those who impact the business are a mix of “collaborative business leader” and “inspiring IT manager”.

IBM found that while CIOs in Australia and New Zealand exhibit many aspects of all six roles, they gravitate towards being able pragmatists.

This sits comfortably enough with Peter Nevin — as a start. The executive general manager, business processes for Sedgman Limited (and chairman of the CIO Executive Council’s board) speaks fondly of his journey to, and time in, the CIO’s chair because it has asked so much of him.

“If you look at the CIOs involved in Pathways — and how they got to where they are in their careers — there are many different experiences,” he says. “Some of us hit some spectacular blind alleys along the way. When I started in IT I had no concept of what a CIO was or even how to aspire to it.

“One of the massive rewards for me is that you get to see, touch, and play with more things than anyone else in the organisation — possibly even the CEO. You know the width, the breadth, and the depth of the organisation. You have no choice. It’s as challenging as any science in that there are leadership components, a complex technical environment, a demanding operational service-level environment, human aspects and large quantities of financial management. That is a career worth having, if you’re up to it.”

Pride in the Profession

Allan Davies, the CIO of Dematic and a Pathways mentor, says one of the great enduring myths of IT is that CIOs don’t understand the business. He says they do.

“And real CIOs know a lot more besides,” Davies says. “You can’t have got to the position in the first place without knowing the business’ pain points and the possible solutions. CIOs want people to know their job is no walk in the park, but it can also be as rewarding a business career as you can have today.”

Carsten Larsen believes success comes back to having pride in the profession. “As a CIO I’m proud of what I do,” he says. “I think I contribute a lot to the business. But other people I deal with at work often don’t understand what we contribute. We have to sell the role better so people can appreciate the difference we make. My involvement in the CIO Executive Council has always been about raising the CIO profile. I want the CIO to have an identity within the business. Unless we get that identity we’ll always be seen as the nerd sitting in the corner.”

Chris Clark agrees. He says sometimes, the business just doesn’t recognise what the best CIOs provide. “Some people treat the CIO like a glorified helpdesk manager,” says Clark. “That can be humiliating, but I’ve turned that attitude into my challenge. I want to show the senior business members why I am here.

“For example, in the construction industry, they say to me — ‘but you just need concrete and steel; you don’t need computers’. It’s a mindset from 30 years ago.

“So I ask them how much concrete and steel they used; did they use it effectively; are they getting the best rate; and can they compare the experience across different projects. There is still a major struggle about teaching upwards. It’s massive.”

Peter Nevin says misconceptions about the CIO role exist even within the ranks of IT itself. “Gather a set of senior IT executives and it will divide into two camps: those who know what the CIO role is and those who believe it is managing the technology,” says Nevin. “Yesterday, I was discussing someone’s career prospects and to them it was still as black and white as ‘do I remain in a technical stream or do I join management?’ It’s much more complex than that. So being able to articulate what the CIO role is and the skills you need to attain that role is immensely important. Pathways provides that experience.”

A Final Word About Killer Instinct

Gartner says that by 2012, the companies with the best earnings growth will be those with an entrepreneurial CIO. The distinctive feature of such a beast is a willingness to take high-level risks — much like an entrepreneurial CEO — to generate revenue, boost financial results and increase market share. But Gartner’s own CEO research has established each year for the past six years that more than 60 per cent of CEOs see their IT organisations as a major constraint to the changes their businesses need.

Which is the point Egon Zehnder’s Chris Patrick makes so sharply in his thought leadership about senior IT executives. It’s worth a refrain, this time with emphasis: “Although CIOs are an emerging presence in the executive suite, few IT executives have the business qualifications or capitalist’s killer instinct for making money.”

Coincidently, the nine core competencies shown to have the greatest impact on an executive’s success, and that form the foundation of the Pathways program, were determined by Egon Zehnder. They hear you Mr Patrick. And soon you will be hearing from them.

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