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CIOs see the future clearly strategically and operationally

by Mark P. McDonald  |  September 27, 2009  |  5 Comments

Recently I had the opportunity to work with two dozen CIOs as the facilitator of a three-hour discussion on their issues. I talked with 15 CIOs prior to the session to understand the issues at the top of their mind and the areas of strength they could contribute to the discussion.  The results, shown in the figure below, provide a snapshot of the current challenges facing CIOs and their enterprises.


While the issues may not be surprusing, the themes that emerged from the discussion shed light on the changing nature of the CIO’s role, the realities of IT and the challenges faced by the enterprise.  Here are a few thoughts based on the ensuing three hour conversation.

  • CIOs are executives and they were more interested in the management of these issues rather than their specific solutions.  The role of the CIO has grown from being head technology expert to lead executive of the IT group.  This is shown by the degree to which CIO saw business and IT leadership and management as an area of strength.
  • IT’s operational requirements are rising, while its strategic potential remains unchanged.  Despite those who say that IT does not matter, the degree to which it is engrained in the day-to-day business continues to grow in depth, complexity and criticality.  This is seen in the CIOs view of infrastructure and infrastructure management as a strength.
  • IT and the enterprise does not recognize its unique position as the only cross functional organization with direct operational responsibilties.  An understnding of why IT can be both a major source of leverage and under constant service and cost pressures remains rare.
  • Emerging technologies are interesting but not integral to enterprise and IT success.  The market for hype remains strong and it continues to generate skepticism.  While the CIOs were interested in new technologies, most recognized that they were updated models of things that already exist.

Specifically around each of the major issues here is a short summary of what the CIOs discussed:

  • Security is a two part issue.  The more important of the parts is increasing demands on information sharing and security.  As collaboration demands increase, the need to share the right information with the right people rises faster in complexity.  This coupled with legislation concerning information such as the U.S. Patriot Act further complicate this issue.  The other part is simply the continued pressure to keep systems secure, protected from attack and the increasing sophistication and frequency of those attacks.
  • Economic conditions are pulling CIOs in two directions at once.  Cost management and cost control remain high on the list.  Most of the CIOs in the discussion had already done first or second rounds of cost cutting so the discussion turned to how to restructure IT.  Innovation was the other direction as IT faced increasing demand for new and updated solutions to reduce business costs and create new value sources.
  • Collaboration and social networking is fast rising on the CIO list of issues.  There is near universal desire to be more collaborative within the enterprise and CIOs recognize the potental of these tools.  However, this new style of computing – the wiki-Facebook- blog approach works in ways that traditional IT practices cannot handle.  This creates stress in the IT organization and user community.
  • CIOs see their contribution to these issues as providing the personal and organizational leadership.  Rather than diving in themselves to address the issues personally, CIOs relayed stories of how they established leadership processes that focused the enterprise and IT organizstion, reduced organizational friction to get the right people on the project, and measured and monitored the results.

Perhaps what was the most surprising was the fact that the discussion did not turn into a complaint session of everything that is wrong with the CIO role.  There was no group pity party, rather a gathering of executives working through the complex issues they face in IT as well as in their enterprise. More detail on these aspects in latter blog posts.

Category: 2010  cio  leadership  personal-observation  

Tags: 2010-agenda  2010-planning  cio-leadership  security-and-risk-management  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on CIOs see the future clearly strategically and operationally

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  3. Shalini says:

    The graphic in this article (url: is not visible.

  4. Mark McDonald says:


    I have reposted the graphic in the article.

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