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CIO marching orders: Attack business processes

Technology executives are being told to bring their game to a whole new level -- moving from utility players to star pitchers -- with better business processes.

CIOs are increasingly being asked to improve business processes rather than provide standardized services at the lowest possible cost, according to the latest research from Gartner Inc.

A new survey revealed that most CIOs and their IT departments are being asked to take one of two equally important roles: business enabler or business contributor. A good example of a business enabler is an IT department that enables a Web-based system to generate $1.5 million in revenues every hour. An example of a business contributor is a CIO who consolidates an information system so that the number of claims a system can process skyrockets as a result.

The research was presented at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in San Francisco this week. Plenty of CIOs in attendance said they were often stuck in utility mode -- maintaining status quo on current systems. The theme of CIOs as business contributors struck home for Jim Winslow, director of global PMO at Levi Strauss & Co. "Right now we feel we are perceived as more like a utility -- or enabler, kind of a necessary evil, rather than a contributor." Winslow said he and his colleagues experience "a reflexive push back from the business."

Winslow's colleague Bob Beeneman, director of business management of IT, said the department also has to do a better job of spotlighting its value as an enabler. "There are contributions we -- as a utility -- are making to improve a business process. We just forget to tell them that we did it!"

Gartner found that many CIOs are adept at letting the CEO know exactly what IT does -- but fail to articulate why they did it.

In addition, strategic CIOs have different priorities than most.

The top three priorities for most CIOs are risk management, infrastructure and virus protection, according to Gartner.

In a marketplace where organizations live and die by differentiating themselves from competitors, "following the same IT priorities of everyone else makes it extremely difficult to give your business a competitive advantage," said Mark McDonald, a group vice president at Gartner.

The study revealed a different set of priorities for CIOs at highly successful IT organizations: growth, competitive advantage, and "doing exactly what the business looks to it to do," McDonald said.

Paul Challe, director of IT at Boston Scientific, a medical device maker based in Natick, Mass., said it's a tall order for IT departments to shift roles. "The theme for me was trying to migrate from this reactive to proactive role. It's a constant struggle for all IT teams. You're answering the phone, not calling people," Challe said.

Boston Scientific, as defined by Gartner, is much more an enabler than a contributor. "We are there to support the business. If somebody comes up with an idea, we help them automating the idea or maintaining services. I would love to see us migrate more to the contribution side," Challe said.

A word of caution: CIOs must take care of the fundamentals first.

Before CIOs can enable or contribute, they must provide secure and high-quality information IT systems, McDonald warned. The average tenure of a CIO who cannot deliver the basics is less than 18 months.

Add some MOTT, please.

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