Information technology has become an increasingly important component
of both daily operations and strategic initiatives in many industries.
Classical roles for IT include providing desktop tools for personal
productivity applications and access to corporate financial and
sales data. High technology industries make additional demands
on information technology, such as increased communication requirements
due to geographically dispersed manufacturing facilities and the
need for prompt access to process control data.
As the breadth of IT's impact on the organization has been growing,
there has been a corresponding rise of the position of the senior
IT executive in the corporate hierarchy. By 1989 more than a third
of American senior IT executives reported to the CEO (Hayley 1989).
However, recent newspaper accounts and anecdotal evidence indicates
that this trend may be reversing.
The potential conflict between increasing use of information technologies
and decreasing stature of the executive responsible for managing
that growth led us to examine the views held by chief executive
officers (CEOs) about IT and senior IT executives. This article
provides insights about what CEOs expect of the CIO and the IT
function, drawing on interviews with CEOs of high technology companies
located in Silicon Valley. Actions by senior IT executives to
more closely align their behaviors with those expected by CEOs
are offered. Although our discussion is aimed at CIOs or other
senior IT executives, the recommendations are of value to all
managers within the IT function.
Only a handful of studies have been conducted into the relationship between CEOs and CIOs. The most relevant looks at CEO/CIO pairs in 14 large organizations based in the United Kingdom (Feeney, Edwards, and Simpson 1992). This research suggests three broad sets of attributes of "excellent" CEO/CIO relationships:
Of these attributes, a "shared vision of the role of IT as
an agent of transformation" is singled out as the major determiner
of successful relationships (Feeney, Edwards, and Simpson 1992).
Building on this and other work to describe behavior and characteristics of CIOs who "add value" to an organization, Earl and Feeny (1994) postulate that CEO behavior critical to setting the stage for such a value-adding CIO is to:
Watson (1990) studied 43 Australian IT managers and looked at
how their communication patterns around key business issues affected
their relationship with the CEO. He concludes that of five key
issues (IT strategic planning, human resources in IT, developing
an information architecture, aligning the IT organization with
the enterprise, and more effective software development) only
IT strategic planning is affected by the mode and frequency of
communication with the CEO.
Jarvenpaa and Ives (1991) surveyed 55 U.S. firms about CEO support
for IT. They determined that CEO involvement with IT (positive
perceptions and attitudes concerning IT) was more strongly associated
with a firm's "progressive" use of IT than CEO participation
in IT (substantive personal intervention in the management of
IT). They also found some support for the conjecture that young,
highly educated CEO's from "output functions" (e.g.,
marketing, sales, and R&D), with short tenure in both the
CEO position and with the firm, were most likely to have highly
positive perceptions of IT.
Stephens (1995) conducted a detailed study of the work week of
five "successful" CIOs in very large organizations.
She provides a mass of information about time allocation, types
and locations of activities, participants in interactions, and
managerial roles assumed by CIOs. For our purposes, comparison
of her results with those of similar studies conducted by Ives
and Olson (1981) of six MIS managers and by Mintzberg (1975) of
five CEOs is illuminating. Stephens' CIOs consistently demonstrated
behavior patterns much more aligned with those of Mintzberg's
CEOs than with those of Ives and Olson's MIS managers. This suggests
that the CIO role is more executive management than operational
Our own substantial experience in the IT and management areas
(including senior marketing positions for computer vendors, research
on corporate executive management, time as a university CIO, and
consulting) and rich conversations with a number of CIOs led us
to believe that CEOs viewed IT differently than they did other
functional areas of a company, and that senior IT executives were
viewed differently than their peers in other functional areas.
We wanted to explore these issues in discussions with CEOs about
the role of and performance of the senior IT executive within
a company, the relationship between the CEO and the senior IT
executive, and the CEO's opinion about the skills essential for
success (in both the CEO and CIO roles).
We contacted six CEOs about this inquiry and each agreed to be
interviewed, suggesting that these questions are also of importance
to them. These CEOs represented a cross sample of high technology
companies from software to hardware, telecommunications to manufacturing,
as well as large and small size. All did business internationally
and have revenues ranging between $80 million and $5 billion.
Three of the companies had revenues above one billion dollars.
In four of the six companies the senior IT executive reports to
the CEO and is a member of the management team. In the other two
companies, the senior IT executive is not a regular member of
the management team and reports to the CFO or COO. Our interviews
were conducted at each company's headquarters, tape recorded,
and transcribed. Transcriptions were returned to the CEOs for
possible further elaboration and/or clarification. Interviews
averaged over 90 minutes in length.
Five of the CEOs had begun their careers in an engineering or
scientific position; the other came from a finance background.
Their experience within high technology companies ranged from
20 to more than 30 years, and they had been with their current
companies for periods ranging from three to 38 years. Over their
careers, each CEO had started with specialized functions, moved
into sales or marketing positions, then into general management
positions before becoming CEOs. All six CEOs fit Jarvenpaa and
Ives' (1991) description of "involved" executives, and
had created an environment that meshed well with Earl and Feeny's
These CEOs were unanimously convinced that IT was critical to
the success of their companies. As one said, "It's like air.
It's everywhere and you can't live without it."
There was less agreement, however, about the difficulty of measuring
the contribution of IT to the organization. Half of the CEOs felt
IT's contribution was more difficult to measure compared to sales
or manufacturing, where quantifiable data were available regularly
and performance expectations could be precisely established. Those
that felt it was not more difficult to measure often quoted personal
satisfaction or the satisfaction of business unit managers as
important evaluation mechanisms.
Four CEOs pointed out that CIOs had the opportunity for broader
interaction across their company than most other functional area
executives, due to the widespread application of information technology.
The other two CEOs noted that, in their companies, there was an
"open shop" attitude and all executives were
encouraged to interact as broadly as necessary to perform their
jobs, and that the breadth of involvement varied more over time
than it did across function.
Despite this opportunity for widespread interaction within the
company, CIOs do not always display an understanding of critical
business issues. Two CEOs strongly emphasized this point, clarifying
that what was really missing in CIOs was an understanding of the
critical factors involved in running a line operation.
Three CEOs had observed similar behavior in their CIOs, but believed
that it was a matter of personal choice, since CIOs "have
a mandate and really should be looking at all functions to understand
all those things." The sixth CEO commented that in his company
CIOs had always been selected from line management for their understanding
of business issues, rather than coming from within the IT function.
These responses were somewhat surprising, indicating that CEOs
had a greater appreciation and understanding of IT than we expected.
But what was more surprising were CEOs' comments about the skills
CIOs needed to succeed, and whether CIOs actually possessed these
necessary skills. Equally intriguing was
the relationship between the skill set CEOs' considered essential
to success as a CIO and those they considered essential to succeed
as a CEO.
The skills needed to succeed as a CEO, around which there was
considerable agreement, were these:
The skills they felt were needed by a successful CIO were virtually
identical to those for being an effective CEO. The only
addition was an understanding of information technology at an
architectural level, and an awareness of developing technologies
that might be valuable to the company.
Other than technical knowledge, unfortunately, CEOs did not believe
that senior IT executives demonstrated many of these essential
characteristics. As one CEO explained,
"I felt pretty good with the technical skills that we had,
but not very good with the general management skills of our MIS
person - communication skills, organizational development skills,
strategic business skills - I just didn't feel very good about
Furthermore, CEOs generally believed that senior IT executives
did not exploit the opportunities that were available to them
to gain these skills, particularly a broad, general understanding
of the business. They felt this left most IT executives with inadequate
It is clear that the characteristics CEOs valued in a CIO were
essentially the same characteristics that the CEOs felt they themselves
needed to demonstrate leavened with enough understanding of IT
to successfully use IT to solve business problems. They expect
CIOs to demonstrate these characteristics and to exploit the relatively
unique opportunities afforded by managing an organization whose
contributions and involvement span the company. That this didn't
happen, or wasn't happening, was of grave concern to each of them.
Distilling the results from our interviews and relevant research, we believe there are six initiatives a CIO must pursue to be successful in the eyes of these CEOs and their like-minded colleagues. These initiatives are:
In the next section we look at each of these initiatives in greater
detail and explore how senior IT executives can work to meet the
expectations that CEO's have.
Synthesis, adopting a general manager's perspective and strategic
skills, all involve holistic view of the world and the relationship
of parts to a greater whole. In addition to the CEOs' personal
feelings that these skills are necessary for success, there appears
to be good empirical evidence as well. A classic series of longitudinal
studies on career advancement (Clark and Clark 1994) identified
only two predictors of whether a new hire would someday move to
the top of the organization. One of those indicators of success
was that the employee always had a bigger picture perspective
than that demanded by their immediate position, trying to understand
how their role fit into the larger context and how they could
impact the larger system.
The power of a holistic perspective is expressed quite poetically
by Philip Mirvis in describing two leaders:
"I depict these two leaders' world views as holistic - a
complex and enlarged view of reality where mutual and reciprocal
causation governs relationships between systemic elements. Rather
than seeing organizations as comprised of parts of a machine,
those who hold to this perspective see elements like strings on
a harp. This world view forms the basis for a synergistic view
of organization---where the whole is more than the sum of the
parts---and allows people to imagine new possibilities for themselves
and their companies." (Mervis 1992)
A big picture perspective is the opposite of being dragged down
into technical detail. As one CEO commented:
"I see the traditional MIS person getting lost in the forest
of technical stuff and using a jargon that is tough for other
people to understand. I've watched that now for a number of years
here, where it's difficult for, at least it was in our case, our
MIS Director to kind of step back and say, 'This is the big picture.
Let's try to get an agreement on that, then I'll go and worry
about the small stuff.' We seem to immediately jump down to the
smaller technical things."
The ability to engage in systems thinking is a related holistic
skill. Paradoxically, the IS organization, who by title if nothing
else, should understand systems thinking, understands it very
poorly. In a recent training program that we conducted for over
200 information systems professionals, only two people from this
group were able to adequately define the term "system."
Are IT professionals, who are predominantly task and problem-oriented,
detailed, analytical, and deductive capable of moving to
the opposite end of the spectrum? Our experience suggests that
it is possible. Indeed, many of the CEOs we interviewed had been
educated as engineers and had acquired their general management
skills as they rose through the ranks of the organization. Perhaps,
therefore, IT executives can follow a similar path and develop
their general management skills by rotating through various cross-
functional responsibilities on their way up the corporate ladder.
CEOs believe IT executives are very well positioned to understand
the overall business and the linkages and interrelationships between
businesses. In general, however, CEOs did not feel that CIOs exploited
this capability. As one CEO related, "You (IT executives)
have the opportunity to understand everybody's role but you fail
to make the most of it."
When asked if CIOs have the opportunity to understand the business
as well or better than anybody else, the reply was generally "Oh,
yes!" or "I would say better. They have the opportunity.
Whether they choose to or not, because remember we got personality
... they'll tend to be more introspective than extroverted, then
they will self-select and close off a huge number of opportunities
to really know what's going on." Here's how another CEO explained
this potential opportunity:
"A bright, observant executive in that role has got to be
learning more and having a broader understanding of the business
than somebody who's just focused on one of the more line-oriented
functions, stove-pipe, line- oriented functions."
Marrying this observation to the need for a broader perspective,
this same CEO later commented:
"He loves the technology. He's already upset that he's not
spending his day doing Unix coding, and so my guess is why a lot
of CEOs might have that belief is because a lot of CIOs haven't
let go of the technical specialty of being an IS guy as opposed
to leaving that and becoming a corporate executive, who by the
way, has some license and some need to really understand all the
different functions of the company."
It would appear that the "IT ground" is itself a fertile
ground for IT executives to start the holistic development process.
CEOs universally mentioned the importance of interpersonal communication.
One noted that the CIO position is "probably the toughest
communication spot in the company." Communication skills
are important for ensuring that the accomplishments of IT are
properly recognized. "You can produce some great results"
explained several CEOs, "but if you can't explain them to
people, they can't value what you've just done." Communication
skills are also critical for determining needs and allocating
resources. CEOs considered this a major part of the CIO's function:
"They've got to find out from the other functional leaders
what they want, and they've got to communicate back to them what
they can get, realistically, because of either technology, costs,
or time limitations."
IT executives typically understand the importance of communication.
Stephens (1995) cites the finding of an Anderson Consulting survey
of 120 IT executives in Fortune 500 companies that "'communication
with top management, functional managers, and end users' was the
most frequently cited concern (92%)." However, the CEOs we
interviewed were in strong agreement that their IT executives
did not perform well in this critical capacity. One said bluntly:
"Straight up, he is the worst communicator of the senior
level management." Other CEOs were less direct but similarly
critical of CIO communication skills.
It may not come as a surprise that IT executives are not gifted
communicators. After all, few have been trained or rewarded for
communication ability in previous positions. Individuals who have
progressed through a highly technical discipline (such as IT)
are typically rewarded early in their careers solely for their
technical skills. But as these same people move up the corporate
hierarchy, hands-on technical skill becomes less important than
the ability to attract and motivate other skilled technical people
to carry out their ideas. This is why communication skills matter
The fundamental communication skills are speaking and listening
effectively, so one can truly understand the viewpoints and needs
of those one interacts with. Earl and Feeny (1994) note that successful
CIOs are "able to absorb and use the language of production
or marketing and show understanding of and sensitivity to their
colleague's concerns." Attending to non-verbal communication
cues, such as attitude and body language, are also important to
While communication skills are essential to effective interaction with others, there is a broader range of related interpersonal skills that CEOs felt CIOs needed in their toolkits:
What can IT executives do to improve their interpersonal skills?
For us, the important word is "skills." Skills are gained
and improved through coaching and practice. CEOs agreed: "It's
lack of coaching ... You develop skills if you have a good mentor
and somebody that trains you in doing it." Even accomplished
communicators can improve by modeling techniques successfully
employed by others. Workshops and role-playing are important opportunities
to learn skills. Individual coaching on listening, speaking without
jargon, and presenting ideas from the other person's point of
view can be invaluable (indeed, two of the organizations whose
CEOs we interviewed were providing such professional coaching
for their senior IT executive). Written follow-ups summarizing
verbal communication can help prevent misunderstandings. Continual
concentration and practice are essential to improving.
Another way for the IT executive to favorably impress senior management
is through the use of marketing techniques to raise awareness
of IT's value.
For example, Royal Bank of Canada hosted a three day symposium
for senior management to which major customers were also invited.
The symposium focused on themes such as "technology means
business" and "in partnership we can do it together,"
and provided hands-on use of technology for all participants.
After this particular event, their CIO commented, "These
sessions changed the profile of IS in the bank and opened up the
eyes of bank executives and customers alike to what is becoming
possible." (Tapscott and Caston 1993) Focusing on how CIOs
can create a more favorable impression with senior management,
let us look at three possible marketing programs: executive education,
hands-on executive use of IT, and IT strategic planning.
A powerful use of executive education is in creating a "first
love syndrome." Essentially, one can do this with any new
strategic area that emerges rapidly, and as a result, triggers
some anxiety on the part of senior managers. This anxiety usually
stems from the need to be "in control" and to provide
leadership to the organization, yet not understanding what opportunity
or threat the new initiative represents to the organization.
A perfect example was artificial intelligence (AI) in the mid
80s. At the time, leading periodicals were hyping the value of
artificial intelligence, yet no one seemed to agree on what it
was, or what it could do for the organization. We took the opportunity
to conduct a one day AI seminar for senior executives and were
overwhelmed with the response. Fifty eight senior executives attended
the seminar, with another sixty four on the wait list. This was
clearly an example of senior managers seeing a simple way to educate
themselves and, therefore, to deal with their anxiety about AI.
As a byproduct, one can earn undying loyalty from those whom you
have educated - hence, the name, "first love syndrome."
Current areas in which this might be applied are numerous. The
obvious one is the Internet and the Web. But there are also electronic
commerce, client-server, the extended enterprise, groupware, knowledge
management, etc. Any of these can used to create a "first
love syndrome." The trick for an IS organization is to present
them in a way that is relevant and meaningful to an executive
audience. Here's an example: Client server technology has pretty
much been accepted as a viable concept. However, much confusion
still exists as to its real value to an organization. This represents
an opportunity for the IT organization to educate its senior management
as to its true potential in putting the person, the work and the
technology together in support of the organizational mission.
Hands-On Executive Use of IT
Our experience indicates the IT function has not done a good job
of helping senior managers use IT effectively. In those instances
where they have helped them, it has usually been on the use of
IT tools, for example, teaching them to use Excel, Word, or another
software package. Senior executives often need to be taught how
to use IT to do their job more effectively---in other words, to
rethink the executive job. A fair job of redesigning business
processes has been done and these same efforts could be directed
at redesigning executive processes and looking at the way that
IT can make a contribution to that effort.
The executives we interviewed were hands-on IT users. This use
provided them a greater appreciation of the power and value of
information technology. A great opportunity is being missed to
educate senior executives on the use of IT in their own personal
environment, and thereby, to raise their appreciation of IT's
potential for the whole organization.
The leadership to do this must come from the IT organization.
IT Strategic Planning
In our interviews we heard CEOs commenting about CIOs' needing
to be more strategic. Their preference was for a CIO "who
is probably 60% strategic and 40% tactical." This represents
another major opportunity area for the IT organization to raise
awareness of their "strategic" role in the enterprise.
Currently, a major strategic theme across many companies is "focus"
- the need to create a singular image of the business for both
insiders, as well as, customers. IT can help with this issue.
Recently, we developed an IT strategy for a company in which there
was not a clear, "focused" corporate strategy. In this
particular situation, we used the Value Discipline model to help
the CIO develop three alternative IT strategies---one for each
of the three value disciplines of product leadership, operational
excellence and customer intimacy. She subsequently presented these
three alternatives to the Chief Operating Officer (COO) with significant
results. The COO was very impressed by the work and remarked,
"It's obvious to me that we have to get our house in order
before we can ask you to be clear on your strategy. I believe
the Board would find your perspective very valuable. Would you
please present this same picture to them?"
Another way to involve senior management in the IT strategic planning
process is by having them participate with the senior IT executive
in a multiple-day offsite meeting. The agenda typically consists
of a half-day business strategy discussion, spent validating and
clarifying the business strategy, followed by 1.5 days spent determining
the best uses of IT in support of this strategy. We have done
this numerous times with often dramatic results. As one IS executive
we worked with remarked after one of these sessions, "This
was fantastic. Now, for the first time, I really feel we have
the CEO's support."
In the previous section, we discussed the use of marketing programs
in raising awareness of the value of the IT resource. It is also
important to regularly and widely report the performance of the
IT organization in achieving results that add value to the organization.
Without such reports, senior management (and colleagues) can't
be aware of the contributions of IT. As the
esteemed marketing guru, Ted Levitt (1986), says:
"He'll only know when he's not getting what he bought, and
that's all that's likely to count unless, in the interval, he's
been made so regularly and persuasively aware of what he's been
getting all along that occasional failures fade in relative importance."
There are a number of ways to report value. These can be accomplished
without succumbing to the need to capture in the process a way
to "blow our own horns." First, however, a baseline
must be established against which results can be reported. Establishing
job responsibilities and definitions of accountability, and providing
performance metrics are three such techniques.
Senior management will not perceive the real value from information
technology until they are conditioned to expect something different
than they have in the past. Traditionally, management expectations
have centered on IT as an automation tool - not as a strategic
tool. One way to begin this process is by establishing
performance metrics which reflect the true value of IT. Most of
the CIO goal sheets that we have seen are tactical and project-oriented.
For example, "Implement a single email system" or "Optimize
the sales system for improved reporting." If we want senior
managers to see the strategic value that IT can provide to the
organization, we need to establish performance metrics that clearly
measure this contribution. One example of such a metric might
be: the number of IT related initiatives that come out of the
corporate strategic planning process.
Once appropriate and meaningful performance metrics have been
established, the work of reporting value can begin earnestly.
The monthly report is a good vehicle to accomplish this. Monthly
reports should focus on results, accomplishments and value-added---not
tasks, projects and activities. The tendency is to report what
has been done, rather than the result of what has been
A good starting point is to report on what is important to the
corporation. How does the corporation measure success? CEOs say:
"You have to continually have metrics that determine whether
you're being effective or not, like in terms of getting productivity
up, cycle time down." Reporting on IS's impact on productivity
and cycle time would be very meaningful measures. A simple technique
to use when writing the monthly report is to ask yourself, "So
what?" For example, if IT reported that a new software package
was brought up this month, ask yourself, "So what?"
What will that package do for the organization? What results can
be anticipated from its installation? Was there anything meaningful
about the installation itself? Was it accomplished sooner than
expected? Did it cost less to implement than expected? These are
the kind of information and metrics that are meaningful in a monthly
This was also the idea behind IBM's requirement that salespeople
make a CAPS (Customer Annual Progress Summary) report to their
customers. This was a formal standup presentation in which the
salesperson highlighted IBM's contributions to the organization
in that current year. It was usually preceded with a message something
like, "Dear Customer, you spent a lot of money with us this
year. We want to come in and tell you what you got in return for
This CAPS presentation was typically delivered to a senior executive
(at least one level above the level that the salesman normally
worked with) and would be a significant reminder of the value
that IBM had provided. The dividends this pays are clear. Listen
the Chairman of the New England Medical Center describes this kind of information (Grossman 1995):
"The information services department prepares an annual performance
report on investments and achievements and compares it with the
medical center's strategic initiatives. We use this report to
evaluate the degree to which our information technology infrastructure
is helping us become a higher quality, more effective, and more
efficient service provider."
The Use of Outsiders
It is uncomfortable for most people to laud their own praises.
An effective way to communicate the value that IT and the IT organization
are providing is through the use of "outsiders." These
"outsiders" can be consultants, academics, writers,
or even, clients. Are they "willing to go on record"
and comment on the success of IT? Better yet, are they willing
to document their observations in an article, newsletter entry
or case study? These favorable reports can then be circulated
to others in the organization and become a permanent part of the
IT organization's "press kit."
It's difficult to be effective if no one knows who you are, what
your past record has been, what your current projects are, and
what you are capable of doing. Yet that's the situation in which
many IT executives place themselves, focused narrowly on technology
within the IT organization instead of interacting with peers and
senior management company-wide and outside the organization.
The CEOs in our survey saw being visible and building relationships
as both an expectation and an opportunity. They felt it was essential
that the senior IT executive spend a substantial amount of time
working closely with peers across their corporation. As noted
by one CEO: "You really need to span across functions because
probably more than half of the success of IT is dependent on a
collection of half a dozen other functions in the company ...
I've told our executive staff here, 'spend half the time on your
function and half the time on the whole company.'" Stephens
(1995) also notes that "Alliances with internal peers was
critical for CIOs," and the 50% of effort outside the IT
organization mentioned above was consistent with actual time allocations
in her observations of successful CIOs. Others have commented
on the importance of building alliances, primarily through informal
one-to-one meetings. Obviously, good interpersonal skills enhance
the ability to build relationships.
Strong working relationships build respect between organizational
peers and permit the honest and open face-to-face interactions
necessary to quickly and effectively establish direction and deal
with problems. A CEO commented about his previous senior IT executive
"[he] did not have the respect of people on my staff. He
would stay in his office ... the door shut and locked ... This
group of people here requires in-your-face kind of managers. If
you've got an issue, you show up on the step and say 'I've got
an issue and what are we going to do about it?'" Comfortable
and open relationships also make it possible for functional executives
to approach their IT partner with concerns about proposed projects
or problems with current operations in a problem-solving rather
than confrontational attitude.
Close relationships with peers can also help to accomplish IT
objectives. CEOs expect IT executives to develop partnerships
as a prerequisite for getting projects approved. One CEO commented
that it was essential that the CIO "comes to me for money
with a business unit partner." Relationships with
peers in functional units can provide the "real" information
necessary for accurate IT strategic planning.
It is important to note that these relationships may be personal
but they must also be professional, built on shared concerns about
applying information technology to the pressing problems faced
by the functional managers. John Rockart (1995) of MIT's Center
for Information Systems Research has pointed out that "The
companies that use IT most effectively boast ... chief information
officers who have a deep understanding of the business and who
are therefore capable of building strong working relationships
with line management." These working relationships are important
not just at the senior executive level but throughout the IT organization,
and the CIO must work at getting subordinates to establish similar
relationships with their peers.
The relationships are not one-sided, of course. Increasingly,
functional executives are expected to understand how IT can be
applied to their operations to gain greater effectiveness. Informal,
trusting relationships at the senior executive level provide an
opportunity for a functional executive to gain that understanding
in a low pressure, low exposure situation. This also provides
a perfect opportunity for CIOs to exercise their talents in education
and to increase impact through influence. Jonathan Newcomb, Simon
& Schuster's CEO, notes that informal forums among both employees
and managers to exchange ideas about technology use have been
successful at spreading ideas through his company (Newcomb 1995).
CEOs in every industry are preoccupied these days with finding
ways to improve their company's positions relative to competitors.
"I'm trying to look for competitive advantage out of anything
I do" said one. They expected their CIOs to help them find
opportunities to gain that advantage.
We've already mentioned that the CEOs believe IT is critical to
the success of their companies, and that IT has broad application
across the company. But much of that application is in day-to-day
operations, essential to the success of the company but not often
the kinds of activities that can make the major difference in
competitive stance the CEOs were looking for. One noted that "it's
not the little things, it's the big impact ... The big kind of
differences you make relative to your competitors."
It is important that these contributions be completed quickly.
As one CEO put it, "I want to be there and I want to be there
first because once everybody can do it, then there's no advantage."
It is also important that they be thoroughly evaluated (both technically
and for business impact) and be tightly focused. CEO's were very
aware of the problems of being too optimistic about technology
and of trying to do too much at once. "I think a fatal flaw
for a CIO, the classic one probably is to be so optimistic, to
believe everything he or she reads ... A good CIO won't let you
get there, won't let you do everything you'd like to do."
This comment was echoed by all the CEOs we interviewed.
How can a CIO find those big impact opportunities? Some prerequisites
are things we have already mentioned: a broad understanding of
business issues, interpersonal skills, and relationships with
peers both inside and outside the company. These characteristics
allow one to recognize and sell opportunities once they're identified.
But finding opportunities requires being constantly on the lookout
for ways to make a difference. For IT applications, CIOs with
real understanding of business issues play a critical role, because
their peers in the organization often don't know what it is possible
for technology to do. The CIO must be an evangelist. "I think
the guys got to be a visionary, he or she's got to be a chance
taker," said one CEO.
Sometimes big impact opportunities occur within a functional unit.
Other times they come at the intersections of two or more functional
areas. Leonard-Barton (1995) characterizes these boundaries as
sources of "creative abrasion," places where poor interfaces
in the flow of information between functional units hinder operational
effectiveness. Established relationships with peers in those functional
units allow CIOs to explore the frustrations and impediments within
functional units, and to serve as a bridge across the units.
Exploring the internal corporate landscape is not CIOs' only source
of ideas for improving the competitive stance of their organization.
There is also a role to play as "intelligence agent,"
finding innovative applications of information technology in other
organizations, distilling the experience, and then applying that
experience to their own company. Earl and Feeny (1994) describe
this as "interpreting external IT success stories."
In Stephens' (1995) study CIOs spent over 27% of their time outside
Trying to be a change agent in a company that wants to maintain
the status quo is frustrating. But the pace of change is accelerating
and many CEOs see IT as a critical ally in defining and implementing
opportunities for competitive advantage.
We wanted to know more about CEO's views of IT, the relationship between CEOs and CIOs, and how IT can become a more effective force in modern corporations. We talked with CEOs, reviewed the literature, and held focus groups with many senior IT executives. We found that CEOs believe the characteristics needed to achieve success are almost identical for both CEOs and CIOs, with the addition of technical knowledge for CIOs. Moreover, except for that technical knowledge, CEOs believe that senior IT executives neither demonstrate those skills nor take advantage of unique opportunities to gain the necessary skills. Six initiatives that CIOs can pursue to address these perceived shortcomings are: develop a "big picture" perspective, enhance interpersonal skills, raise awareness of the value of IT, report results more effectively, establish relationships and increase visibility, and become a change agent. Armed with these ideas as an integral part of their repertoire of personal skills, IT managers and executives can significantly increase the role they play within corporations. In this way, they can dramatically enhance not only their personal impact but also the stature of the IT professional. Both the profession and the corporation benefit in this process.
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