Business Strategy

Does IT really want to be in the C-Suite?

August 12, 2014

  • Alex Bratton

Robert Plant recently described his vision for the evolution of the Chief Information Office (CIO) role into one much more business value focused in his article “IT Has Finally Cracked the C-Suite.” I completely agree with the need for this transformation, but differ in opinion on if and how today’s CIOs are going to get there.

Plant talks about the business enabling power that IT executives wield when they are “freed from their service role” and transforming the CIO role to the Chief Business Technology Officer (CBTO). This seems to imply that it’s the business’s fault for locking the CIO away from core business issues. I disagree with this premise as from what I’m seeing, it is typically the CIO themselves who actively shuts out the business—rather than being passively “trapped”—and sticks to their technology. Rather than proactively engaging in meaningful business conversations, many CIOs respond reactively to the business branch.

I’ve worked directly with many CIOs and trained many others to apply technology to solve business problems. CIOs fall into two very distinct groups. The first group is similar to those Plant describes as interested in attacking business problems and focusing on the company growth. CIOs with this mentality will make huge impacts on their organizations. I’ve seen a forward thinking CIO make an extremely successful move into a CFO role to continue his strategic programs. Another successful CIO functioned much like a COO, constantly looking at business metrics and the correlation to the technology systems supporting them.

Unfortunately, these forward thinkers are outnumbered by a second breed of CIOs. Those CIOs who can’t make that shift in thinking are going to relegated to the plumbing, piping data around the company but not adding strategic value. Their prime vision will be one of watching technology budgets be soaked up by marketing, operations, and sales teams who have real problems to solve.

These CIOs’ myopic approach to technology isn’t just a single IT executive’s modus operandi—it becomes the ethos of the entire department. These CIOs spend all of their energy focused on high tech plumbing — moving data from point A to point B. They are fixated on virtualization, the cloud, security, and compliance. These are all important, but none of them are strategic. They never lift their heads to actually ask the simple question: how can technology help propel this company forward?

They are overwhelmed with departments asking for new mobile and web apps. These app requests are frequently band-aid approaches to a deeper need they didn’t anticipate. They didn’t anticipate it because they didn’t engage those groups to understand their business pain points and proactively suggest solutions. These are the same CIOs whose mobile strategy approach mobile devices lock down and control. This completely misses the point of what value mobile brings and what problems it can solve.

This problem is a large part of what propelled me to write Billion Dollar Apps. The first chapter, in fact, charts out the “Why mobile?” question. It’s what we tackle with energy and expertise at Lextech. You could say one of chapter one’s headings, “More efficient workflows? There’s an app for that”, is an unofficial motto here. We don’t build enterprise toys; we solve business problems with mobile and save billions in the process.

The CBTO role will help drive huge change precisely because they are process oriented and tuned into the company goals. They exist to break down the proverbial silo and lead wildly successful companies to new heights. The question is, will more CIOs take the leap and will their company leadership welcome that change?

What do you think? Do CIOs close themselves in? Is there a CBTO/ CIO who excess in thinking both creatively and analytically about mobile solutions to business problems? Let us know below!