A Practical Approach for IT Governance

A Framework for studying different CIO Archetypes

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Blogs are usually concise and anchor around one salient point. However, the theme for this blog is such that it will be a narrative, perhaps a prelude to a book. While my product helps CIOs manage the business of IT, one challenge was how should the tool change for the different types of CIOs. The old school taxonomy was to classify CIOs into two basic groups: back-office who were focused on operational efficiency and cost, and front-office who were focused on innovation and helping IT provide the competitive edge to the Enterprise. There are some social frameworks for classifying the different types of CIOs. A popular one is from our partner CEC which identifies the three types:

  1. Operational/Functional (Business relationship: Service provider)
  2. Transformational (Business relationship: Partner)
  3. Business Strategist (Business relationship: Peer)

While this framework is very useful, I feel we need a more contemporary taxonomy for classifying CIOs. The taxonomy I am proposing is based on the background where the CIOs come from.

Imagine a three dimensional grid with one axis being business background, the other being technology background, and the third being the leadership skills. Since it is difficult to show a three dimensional grid in a blog, I have broken it into two 2×2 grids. The two grids are separated by leadership skills – those who have it and those who do not. CIOs who exhibit leadership skills run IT like a business. They feel that their role is no different than that of a CEO of a IT company.

While it is highly desirable to have leadership skills, many CIOs do not have this skill set.  I will argue that they can still play an important role in the organization. Organizations that leverage technology to run their businesses efficiently, may find CIOs who have strong business skills and technology skills the right fit.  These CIOs are labeled “Mature Geeks”.  it is difficult to imagine a CIO with weak technology skills and weak business skills.  However, you will find these “Trainee CIOs”  since some organizations use the CIO position as a place-holder for leaders for the future (or for their favorite cousins).  With over 50,000 CIOs in the US alone, there are many you run into who have just either strong technical skills “Geeks” or strong management skills “Process Reengineers”.  Geeks have a place, specially if they bring in a strong skill set needed. You have probably come across many an ERP implementation expert get the CIO title simply because the organization feels that ERP is their lifeline.  The same holds true for strong vertical experts as well.  Expertise in retail may get a person the CIO title despite having a weakness in the other dimensions.

If the organization is attempting to leverage technology to create a competitive edge, they will prefer CIOs with strong leadership skills.   If the CIO is also blessed with a strong business background and has strong technology skills (“Entrepreneurs”) ,  the organization is best giving the CIO significant business responsibilities – not just IT. Without this added challenge, it will be hard to retain these entrepreneurial CIOs.  In many cases, probably more so in larger firms, organizations will prefer “Change Agents” who possess exceptional business skills to implement significant changes.  Less frequent, but not uncommon, organizations which may need team building may prefer “Healers” who possess exceptional leadership skills, but lack business and technical skills.  Startups that are developing disruptive technologies may prefer CIOs with exceptional technical skills (“Innovators”).

The framework is designed to help organizations understand the type of CIO they need.  IT alignment to business cannot be achieved without having the right type of CIO that meets the organization’s needs.

Written by Subbu Murthy

January 31, 2015 at 9:01 pm

Posted in IT Governance

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