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Gartner to CIOs: Think, talk and walk like a CEO

Successful CIOs will become business leaders first, technology gurus second. Gartner analysts give CIOs a roadmap.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Whether IT departments cease to exist in five years can be debated until the cows come home. But this much is indisputable: CIOs who cannot think and talk like a business person are going the way of the passenger pigeon.

Successful CIOs are finding their roles expanded across the enterprise -- to finance, human resources, property management, procurement and vendor management. In a recent survey, analyst firm Gartner Inc. found that 15% to 20% of CIOs are taking on non-IT responsibilities. Six percent of CIOs are also COOs. And 22% of CIOs are forging enterprise-wide strategies -- the Holy Grail of the new business-first CIO.

When IT gets involved, it is a powerful weapon.
Ellen Kitzis
analystGartner Inc.

Indeed, to thrive in the next five years, whatever they may bring, CIOs must be business leaders first, technology leaders second, said Ellen Kitzis, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner.

The role reversal is more than a matter of personal survival. According to Gartner research, of the companies where the CIO does not play a strategic role, 13% are less likely to achieve their financial objectives; another 13% are less likely to open new markets.

"When IT gets involved, it is a powerful weapon," said Kitzis, who teamed up with colleague Tina Nunno at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo last week.

Taking on additional business duties helps "get you viewed as a business leader," Nunno said. But there are barriers and gaps, the analysts said.

Different time zones

One barrier is the CIO's internal clock.

CIOs tend to be long-term planners. An IT budget looks ahead five years, as it must, given the expense and magnitude of IT projects. CEOs are thinking next quarter, next month, next day, the next minute. IT leaders who are business leaders first need to take the long view, but they must also have a perspective on what the company needs now -- or risk being dismissed as irrelevant, Nunno and Kitzis said. Long-term benefits are "just not as interesting to people in the business," they added.

You know you're a business leader first, CIO second if you:
1. Focus on a few things. CIOs are more "process focused" and CEOs more "outcome focused."

2. Focus on customers. IT leaders tend to see projects in terms of cost, while business leaders see them "through the lens of opportunity."

3. Bring your financial management, sales and marketing and change management skills to the table as part of your overall IT strategy.

4. Possess all the skills needed to run a top IT organization and the business acumen to help set strategy for the company.

Case in point: Shortly before the end of a quarter, the CIO of a publicly traded business discovered the company was $2 million short of its financial forecast -- a disaster on Wall Street waiting to happen. He found $3 million in the IT budget and gave it back to the company. Next time budgets rolled around, the CIO got what he asked for, and more, plus a huge bottle of champagne.

More to the point, Kitzis said, the CIO's strategic thinking got the company out of an imminent mess -- IT was viewed positively by the executive suite.

CIOs who are business leaders first, technology leaders second, come to the table with both a strategic view of the organization and a solid grounding in technology.

Then there is the issue of personality. Business leaders want to "move the dial," Kitzis said. Extroverts by nature, business leaders can communicate across the enterprise, and they need to, Kitzis said, "because they are all about power and influence."

Glad-handing does not come naturally to most IT folks. On the Myers-Briggs personality indicator, CIOs tend to come out as "INTJ's" -- introverted, analytical long-term planners.

But CIOs who position themselves as business leaders also are "all about influence and change," Nunno said. They are not holed up "doing the best budget ever" but "providing an environment where change can take place."

How to know if you've got business moxie?

Nunno asked the audience of CIOs how much time they spent with their team. The responses ran the gamut, with about one-quarter of the audience saying they spent 25% of their time with their team, another 25% putting down 50%, and so on. But the exercise had nothing to do with time, as it turned out, but who the CIOs meant by "their team." CIOs have two teams: the one they lead and the one they are a member of -- their organization's team of business executive peers.

CIOs who are business leaders first, technology leaders second, communicate effectively with their IT team and with business peers across the enterprise.

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CIOs who defined their team as their IT employees -- and that included just about everybody in the room -- can't be strategic because they are too removed from the decision makers. Kitzis's advice: Hang out less with your IT buddies and more with the business folks.

The session resonated with Darrell Hoff, business apps manager at Actel Corp., a Mountain View, Calif.-based semiconductor business with 600 employees and $200 million in revenue. There is no question that companies are looking at the CIO as a business leader first, he said. But combining business savvy and technology rigor is a tall order, especially at technology companies. The semiconductor business, by definition, is process-engineering oriented, and "we struggle to make changes," he said.

"People think that Silicon Valley and high-tech is very good at implementing technology in a strategic way, but my experience is they do it every ineffectively. They know technology -- technology first -- and not business strategy," Hoff said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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