The Six Dimensions of the CIO

I don’t normally base articles on blog postings, let alone a comment to a blog posting, but in this instance, Jed Simms founder and executive chairman of Capability Management in Australia, in replying to this blog posting on IT Business Edge about CIO’s having a thankless job, has really nailed down what a CIO’s job is all about and the challenges they face.

Basically, Simms states there are six dimensions to the job:

  • 1. Running operations/keeping the network up;
  • 2. Improving IT operations/reducing the costs of IT;
  • 3. Supporting applications development;
  • 4. Improving IT’s performance – in ways the business can see;
  • 5. Improving business operations – together with the business; and
  • 6. Improving business performance – together with the business.
  • The first four are, today, “table stakes,” as Symantec CIO Dave Thompson puts it, for even having the title. But the last two, five and six, are where the rub is. While much is written (and lamented) regarding these two areas, they are still the hardest part of any CIO’s job to achieve.

    “I think (six dimensions) were almost spot on,” said Thompson. “The primary job of the CIO is those top four items really.”

    But to move beyond that “[i]t really does depend on your executive team and your CEO and board and the role that they want you to play.”

    Getting the business to look at technology as more than just infrastructure; to see it as the business enabler is has become, is difficult at best at many companies and almost impossible at others—even though report after report regarding best-in-class companies and their use of IT—highlight technology as a very important part of their success.

    “It is a delicate juggling act which requires the CIO to get the basics right (1-3) and then focus on the business dimensions which many aspire too,” writes Simms. “But there is a catch, many businesses only want their CIOs to focus on 1-4; presenting a ‘glass ceiling’ for further progression. CIOs in these companies must either change the perception of IT or change their jobs.”

    If you are frustrated by this, you are probably not alone. Most companies today (by some accounts, as high as 70%) don’t view IT as a strategic enabler or look to technology as a tool for innovation. Keeping the lights on is enough to keep the CEO happy—even if you want to do more.

    “It’s a given you have to have a stable infrastructure to run a business today,” said Mike Scheuerman, a consultant and former CIO/CTO. “Even if you do have that, it doesn’t mean you contributing to the business strategy.”

    Changing the Game

    For some CIOs, this is going to be good enough. But if you are not content to sit still and watch and wait for your c-suite peers to see things differently, there are things you can do.

    It’s all about communicating the benefits of what IT can do for the business, how it can improve operations, save money, add numbers to the bottom line, improve customer service, impact top-line growth, etc.

    The master key is finding the areas IT can have a positive impact on revenues, said Thompson.