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What does the CEO want most from the CIO?
Its a daunting question. And as technology permeates every facet of business operations and continues to become a more indispensable source of competitive advantageand as customers and prospects aggressively push the you-need-to-be-social requirementits a question that takes on even greater relevance:
What does the CEO really
wantand needfrom the CIO?
To help answer that, I sought the advice of Oracle president Mark Hurd, one of the best-known tech-industry executives in the world and a business leader who probably has as many or more discussions with CEOs as well as CIOs as any executive on the planet.
Hurd jumped right into the subject: Its really a matter of one big thing: can the CIO help execute the agenda of the business? Hurd asked. Thats ultimately what it comes down to.
So from my conversations with CEOs, heres what they want from their CIOs: a laser focus on optimizing the companys processes and a desire to identify and weed out the inevitable complexities that find their way into those processes and, ultimately, drive that same heightened level of complexity into the apps. Thats where the problems get really bigat the apps level.
So CEOs tell me they want the CIO to ruthlessly automate processes that drive competitive differentiation and strategic advantage, and make those processes the best in the world. Along the way, he or shes got to keep the complexity of the processes and apps as low as possible and relentlessly drive costs out of the business, Hurd said.
Easy to say but not nearly so easy to do, he added, and heres why:
CIOs have to be able to lay out a clear path in concert with the business leaderI used to make the business guy responsible for the apps, and force them to answer the question of why they feel they need non-standard apps when they know thats how the costs skyrocket, Hurd said.
And the CIO has to be able to team up with that business guy and lay out a vision and a strategy together that can be used to create the business model, and then set up the processes under that to support the new business model, and then deploy the appsthe standard apps, not the custom appsthat automate those processes.
Those kinds of CIOs have to have one foot planted deeply in the business along with having one foot rooted in ITand thats a real rarityit is really hard to find those guys, Hurd said.
Businesses need to determine the processes where they can drive strategic differentiation and then begin that automation process, Hurd said, adding that those slices of competitive advantage can differ from company to company and industry to industry: sometimes Customer Experience, sometimes procurement, sometimes supply chain or something else.
For example, in banks, it can be the Customer Experience processes that need to be not just fully automated but coordinated off of a single common platformand thats an incredibly complex challenge, Hurd said.
Youve got a mobile-banking platform and somebodys in charge of that, and a retail-banking platform and somebody else runs that, and your internet-banking service and platform that somebody else runs, and the ATM business and so onand none of those guys really gives a hoot about the other platforms because theyre not paid to care about themtheyre paid to care about the one platform that they run.
But for the banks customers, well, they care a lotand thats why this Customer Experience automation off a single common platform is so complex. And its why you need as a CIO a person with one foot deeply in the business so he knows how all those platforms interrelate and come together, and one foot in IT to help consolidate the relevant processes and wrap them around the appsits really, really hard, Hurd said.
And its even tougher for CIOs because each of those separate platform guys will be saying they need their own separate app, not a common platform, but those apps have to be standardthey cant be bastardized! And the problem is that because the CIO generally wants to please the business types, theyve agreed to go with those bastardized apps for yearsfor years!and its a very hard habit to break.
In addition to being a business leader and technology visionaryas well as a diplomat, a psychologist, and an end-to-end process expertthe CIO also has to be able to master the currently intense challenge of reshaping how IT budgets are constructed, allocated, and spent, said Hurd.
On the budget side, its really coming to a head: the economics of business today just dont tolerate big spending in IT, Hurd said. Theres tons of pressure. So CIOs have to bring that laser focus to deciding where I want to innovate, and where I need to spend.
Butthey dont have any extra dollars to apply, so the only way out is for the CIO to say, I need to realign what Im spending, and what Im spending it on.
And I guarantee you, the bulk of it will be tied up in applications infrastructureIve seen it in a thousand placesand the CEO has to give the CIO the support to really get in there and force through some big changes. Or it just wont work.
That kind of transformative thinkingaround not just the tech stuff and not just the optimized and automated processes, but also what Hurd called the economics of ITis ultimately what CEOs want from CIOs, Hurd said.
CIOs have earned a strategic seat at the table, but now theyve got to hold that seatand the only way they can do that is to converse in the language of business value and business benefits and business outcomes that all align perfectly with the strategic agenda of the company, Hurd explained. And as I said, its very, very hard to find guys who can do all that.
But without that, the CIO will fail.
Bob Evans is senior vice-president, communications, for Oracle Corp., and reports to CEO Larry Ellison. Hes responsible for helping articulate Oracles strategic directions, high-level technology innovations, unique competitive advantages, and the wide range of business value Oracle creates for its customers and partners. Before joining Oracle, he was a long-time tech-industry analyst and commentator as well as content and media executive. You can follow him on Twitter at @bobevansIT.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WTN Media, LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.