Where We Were and Where We're Headed

For the next seven weeks CIO Update will look at what it takes to be a 21st Century CIO. In this first installment we take a look at how the job has changed and the skills today's CIO needs to be successful.
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Over the past 10 years IT has come a long way. It used to be (and sometimes still is) companies only turned to the people running IT for input into new ideas or processes at the very end of the decision-making cycle -- after most of the important decisions had been made.

For MIS managers and today's equivalent, the CIO, that meant having a skills-set rooted firmly in technology, not business. Today, that equation has changed, and is changing, dramatically. Advancements in technology and its pervasive use throughout most large organizations means 21st Century CIOs have to have skills-sets that go far beyond their predecessors.

Today's CIO is increasingly a major player in the decision-making process, right alongside the CFO, CEO, president and division and business-unit heads. To be effective in this new role, a CIO today not only must understand technology, its application and limitations, but also must have a firm grasp of all the business processes it touches in the company. This means he or she must be as well-versed in business, its politics and nuances, as technology.

First-Hand Experience

When Doug Lewis, a senior consultant at Edge Consulting, took his first CIO job at Pratt & Whitney more than two decades ago, for example, he worked with the heads of engineering and manufacturing to cut jet engine development time from seven years to four.

By the time he left the business world to become a consultant, he was part of the executive management team at Holiday Inn (now InterContinential Hotels Group) that decided such weighty issues as whether to buy other hotel chains, the company's overall direction, how to boost efficiency and increase sales.

"And that's very far from deciding how to implement an ERP (system)," he said. "It's a very different world. And it's one where you have to understand how the business works, what drives revenues, customer relations as well as how to apply technology to make money. And (as importantly) when not to apply technology, I think, is a skills-set most CIOs need now."


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