CIOs need to be more assertive

by Sohini Bagchi    Aug 23, 2012

Kumar R Parakala KPMGWith the technology and business landscape becoming increasingly complex, CIOs are expected to play a transformative role in an organisation just like other CXOs. In a recent interview with Sohini Bagchi of CXOtoday, Kumar R Parakala, Head of Management Consulting - IT Advisory, KPMG in EMA, throws light on CIOs leadership role and how he can play a more significant role in the organisation. An excerpt.

What kind of transformation is the CIO witnessing in recent times?

The CIO community is going through a transformation over the last five years or so. As technology plays a more pivotal role in an organisation, CIOs role is changing from not just keeping the computers running, but also spurring innovation and adding value to the business. Although IT should be viewed as an enabler for business transformation and improving operational efficiencies, successful CIOs are those who understand and speak in the language of business and not just focused on the technology. They are increasingly expected to play a transformative role in an organisation just like other CXOs.

Why is CIO’s leadership role becoming so important?

The focus of the CIO’s role today is much more than being just a technology person. Like other CXOs (CEO, CFO, COO, etc) in the organisation, the CIO is expected to be a leader who can steer the organisation and drive value to the business. In today’s highly competitive business climate, technical experience alone does not give anyone the ability to lead an organisation. Instead a successful CIO should become a transformation agent who can translate the IT operations function into a business-enabling role. This requires the CIOs to demonstrate leadership through strategic communication and collaboration with other CXOs and thought leaders in the organisation.

What is the position of a CIO in an Indian enterprise? Are Indian CIOs ready for top leadership positions?

With the consumerisation of IT and fast-changing business dynamics, the Indian CIO’s role is also expected to become less technical and more business-oriented just like his global counterparts. I believe even though there has been some changes in the way CIOs in India are moving up the value chain, they need to become more assertive. To put it simply, these managers are required to step out of the proverbial back-office and come to the front lines of business initiatives – interact with various stakeholders and play a transformative role in an organisation. This may take some time but should happen in the near future. Indian CIOs are often at the crossroads striving to select a more realistic future role. However, in the next couple of years, we will see the huge progress especially in the next generation CIOs who are expected to be more influential and successful business leaders, particularly when compared with those who remain focused on technology management.

What are the challenges in the way of CIO leadership and how can this be overcome?

With the technology and business landscape becoming more complex, CIOs undoubtedly face a number of challenges. One, they are expected to have a good knowledge of IT and at the same time articulate in business terms on how IT can support and enable business growth. CIOs are also expected to have broad of skills to working with other CXOs, particularly the CEO. They should understand business strategy and its drivers, that will then assist them to deliver of key priorities of their organization. Maintaining a balanced focus between IT and business can become a challenge.

Another big challenge is that most CIOs tend to ignore the importance of leadership development. CIO need to be effective leaders, if they wish to undertake other business roles. Developing trusted relationships and ability to communicate in simple business language, are the two important skills that they should gain. CEOs must support the evolution of their CIOs into business leaders.

What are the common mistakes CIOs make during their careers?

Most CIOs often do not have a macro view of business. They are often too technology oriented and in the process they forget that their technology investment should translate into business value. CIOs often get too technical and lose sight of business. They often fail to understand the overall direction of the business and how to get aligned to it. They limit themselves to technical matters, missing out on bigger opportunities to add value to the business. In addition, CIOs should become more externally focused compared to strict internal focus, where they should get a good understanding of client matters and the competitive environment that is impacting the business.