The Changing Role Of A CIO

by Julia Fernandes    Dec 28, 2004

With the growing changes in the size and complexity of the IT function, a CIO’s role has gradually transformed from a mere technology person in charge of managing the IT resources to a business-savvy IT honcho. Right from justifying security investments to explaining how a low-priced solution fails to add value to a business, a CIO’s plate is more than full.

Two CIOs - Alagu Balaraman, senior vice president (IT & corporate development), Godfrey Phillips India Ltd., and CS Murty, chief of information management, Tata Ryerson Ltd., share their thoughts with CXOtoday as we attempt to demystify the CIO beneath the external frills and trappings.

Defining the role of a CIO, Balaraman felt that a CIO has to ensure alignment between the business and the technology strategy; and to disaggregate the technology strategy into services that enable the business. Apart from being involved at a business and process planning level, CIOs also need to ensure a clear solution architecture through which these services are delivered.

“CIOs continue to aid CEOs in assisting the choice of technology, which adds value to the business. A CIO’s profile also encompasses identifying technology and its implementation to ensure the changed scenarios are supported well,” observed Murty.

In terms of the newer challenges faced by CIOs, Murty explained, “Every enterprise wishes to own the best brand at local prices. It becomes a Herculean task for a CIO to explain why low-priced products cannot be deployed and how it fails to add value to the business in the long run. Additionally, the task of justifying security investments especially for a VPN network is equally daunting.”

According to Balaraman, inter-enterprise connectivity is today taken for granted at a business level. There are vast technical and change management issues that need to be addressed when extending beyond the enterprise. This places new demands on the CIO in planning and sourcing skills.

Explains Balaraman, “Business requirements are far more on-line than they were before. Strategies change and even tactical activities need technology support. This is not just a question of working faster, but designing to work faster.”

Another major problem CIOs face is unjust comparison of complex systems required for the business with that of a routine office suite. Says Murty, “Packages like Tally are considered to be extremely user friendly. However, that cannot be sole criteria. Enterprises constantly look for more control with the least of investment and this is more acute in the SMB sector where available resources are limited.”

Does this imply that CIOs do have to face unreasonable expectations?

“No,” asserts Balaraman, “not more than any other manager.”

However, Murty has a different view. According to him a major problem faced by a CIO is when a part of a software does not behave the way it is expected to in certain conditions. Says Murty, “It is difficult to explain that any software is prone to errors and till now no software is error free including MS Office which is used by millions.”

“A CIO faces unreasonable expectations from CEOs to complete the project in time and from vendors who always complain that they are not getting the required support on the shop floor. A CIO is expected to be a jack of all trades and it is difficult to convince that we cannot be that,” rues Murty.

So, with a CIO being forced to don several hats, will he eventually evolve as a business strategist?

Says Murty, “In my view it depends on the CIO himself and also his background with regard to business knowledge and the market in which the business operates.”

However, according to Balaraman, a CIO should already be a business strategist - just as everyone in the management committee needs to be. If a CIO is not on a management committee, then that person is not a CIO.

Tags: CIOs