‘It’s a Mind-Bending Job’

Ann Senn is Deloitte Consulting’s global leader of CIO Advisory Services, and a
primary author of a new paper, CIO 2.0, the Changing Role of the Chief Information Officer, which discusses what all business leaders, not just CIOs, should know now about this transformation.

CIO 2.0 takes a “Top 10” list approach to the most pressing issues facing CIOs today. The categories are as diverse as they are all-encompassing, ranging from shareholder value to regulatory changes to staffing.

CIO Update caught up with Senn the other day to talk about the publication and how Deloitte’s CIO clients are balancing so many major issues, commitments and changes while still retaining a shred of sanity.

CIO Update: Why start CIO 2.0 off with shareholder value?

Senn: “Because that’s one of the things that has been most momentous in terms of IT’s change; that is IT and the work of IT. What we meant by putting it in there is value is at the heart of everything instead of something in its own right. Value is the end game.

“The leaning of the business executive has moved from really just trying to make it work … to really driving for the value they are trying to achieve out of this. One of the most momentous things that has happened is the management discipline around being able to understand and translate operational performance at a business level into financial performance from a shareholder perspective.

“And then going deeper; transforming IT initiatives and business initiatives towards the operating performance drivers that they are intending to move has really evolved substantially over the last three to five years. And, because of that, you can see we are driving these large scale initiatives, and even smaller targeted initiatives, much more focused on the business value and business benefit that they are to achieve as opposed to loosely defining benefits and value up-front and mostly driving them to make them work.”

As a CIO, do you have to think about these 10 things everyday?

“It’s a mouthful isn’t it? One of our questions is do all CIOs look alike? And the answer is ‘No, they don’t’. There are some CIOs who are very focused on the business of managing IT and basically take orders from the business in terms of ‘Here’s what we need from IT’ … and that can be a huge, huge job. That can be an enormous job.

“But they would be not so focused on something like breaking down the silos between the business because there would be someone in the business whose looking at that saying, ‘Are there opportunities that we’re not exploiting? Should we go after them?’ But there are CIOs who are business leaning or are being asked to look at integration across business units; or help look at cost-reduction opportunities across the business units; or help look at revenue opportunities across the business.”

Are all of these issues endemic?

“At some level … the answer would be yes. And that’s how they ended up on our list. Certainly all of the infrastructure stuff is still going on. But we have a business bottom and top line, shareholder value focus that has tightened pretty substantially and we have a focus on our corporate synergies in some cases, economies-of-scale in some cases, and those are the lenses through which you view the various activities that will simply continue to go on.

“The basic business of IT hasn’t changed. IT is developing and deploying applications as well as operations technology. IT is about safe-guarding information and assets. That hasn’t changed.

“What has evolved is this tighter focus on business, on business opportunities, on driving all these activities for value, and, as such, you can sort of parse out these issues, and say this is more strategic- and direction-focused and this is more ‘get-it-done’ focused and this is more protect-the-assets focused.”

Is it possible today to separate the business issues from the technology issues?

“More and more it doesn’t tend to be possible because, if you want to improve operational performance, one of the big levers you can pull is applying information and technology appropriately to take work out, or perform a transaction more rapidly, or whatever it is.

“IT is one of the important levers that one can pull. My argument would be because IT has become embedded and because it has become quote ‘more functional’ in business, it’s very seldom that you can truly isolate it.”

So, this means the CIO is no longer solely in control of IT today?

“The directional control of IT has moved from IT alone to the business in some cases or business and IT together in others but you don’t see the directional control of IT residing in IT anymore.

“The focus has been sharpened on business value.”

Can one person effectively take the lead on all these issues simultaneously?

“Can one person be absolutely the leading-edge thinker on those issues at once? No, absolutely not. There’s no way. Your mind would break trying to address that.

“But, at the same time, if you are big-name CIO at a big-name company, can you go down these issues and say there’s one of these I’m not addressing? The answer is no, absolutely not. These are the things they are dealing with. Whether I’m the leader in how we are addressing regulatory changes in the environment or whether I’m the leader in figuring out where our unexploited business opportunities are and looking for synergies across the business units … it doesn’t matter. I might be leading one and following on another.”

How do you do juggle this many major challenges and initiatives at once?

“You have a competent team you put in place, your ‘right hand’, that help you navigate these issues. You team effectively with the other business executives to make sure that your sharing responsibly and working together and understanding whose leading and whose following; that the bases that are relevant to you are being covered and that you know your goals.

“It’s a mind-bending job.”