Special Report – IBM 2011 CIO Study Unenlightening

The Meat

IBM did serve up some meat with their marketing sizzle, however. In the last section, “Excelling in your mandate,” I was finally rewarded for my slog through obviousville. Beginning on page 63, IBM delivers. They challenge CIOs to lead. And not just lead IT, but lead the business.

Hurray for IBM!

While I read over and over that CIOs need to understand the mandate the business places on them, IBM finally admits that operating in a specific box … er, mandate, may not actually be in the best interest of the organization! Maybe, just maybe, the CIO has a bigger vision for the company. And maybe, just maybe, the CIO could lead everyone to a higher-value mandate — one that would produce greater returns for all stakeholders.

“Having earned their trusted spot in the C-suite, CIOs are poised to help lead even more than before. To be transformative in supporting their own mandates, each can benefit from the nuggets of truth shared by others.” (Page 64.)

CIOs can support their own mandates?!? In other words, maybe, just maybe, CIOs could move from being just technology leaders to being business leaders? And maybe CIOs can educate other business leaders that the mandate they’ve been forced into sells IT short?

Forget that I just wrote “just maybe,” the answer is “Yes!” CIOs can be business leaders.

I don’t understand why IBM wasted 62 pages telling us about all of these other mandates if, in the end, they actually desire and challenge CIOs to support their own mandates (scratch, scratch).

Essential actions: Start here

If you read only one page read page 65. It’s where the meat and the sizzle come together.

IBM provides five actions to take to become a CIO of significance. (I’ve added my thoughts to each action. Bullet No. 4 is my favorite and needs to be the top priority for every CIO on the face of the earth … regardless of the box that your company mandates you operate in!)

1. Collaborate beyond what is currently imagined – Be an enabler, innovator, collaborator, educator, initiator of discussing what’s possible. But don’t forget to also take action, to practice, prototype, play with these ideas.

2. Live simplification as a daily goal – Continually improve IT, business operations and your broader value chain. Seek to eliminate bureaucracy and inefficiencies wherever they rear their ugly, value-draining heads.

3. Embrace the power of analytics – What’s your data telling your organization? What patterns exist in your unstructured data? Are you asking what knowledge, answers, ideas, solutions, revenue, profit are you leaving on the table? Do you have the team and tools to know?

4. Help grow profitability and seek new revenue – Become an entrepreneurial business leader. Develop the mindset that you exist to grow a business, not just select, implement and manage technology. This will require, though, that you build an IT organization that can execute without you.

5. Provide unparalleled IT expertise – I don’t agree with IBM that the CIO should “become the ultimate expert at understanding and integrating the newest technologies,” as they phrase it in the report. I do believe, however, that the CIO is responsible for building and leading an IT organization that can achieve this mission. A CIO will fail if they stay involved in IT operations and also try to become a business leader. They will be stretched to these extremes and then break like a rubber band.

So, in summary,:

  • Skim the introduction;
  • Skip the heart of the report (but read the Recommendations for each of the four mandates);
  • Read the last section; and
  • Skip the quotes.

And, finally, here is my own personal mandate for CIOs:

  • Build an IT organization that you trust and can function without you;
  • Become a business leader; understand that you exist to grow a business not provide technology; and
  • Get out of your box and lead!

John D. Hughes is founder of GrowthWave, an interim CIO/CEO advisory firm in Seattle and author of the recently released leadership fable, Haunting the CEO: A tale of true leadership in an era of IT failure. John can be reached at [email protected].