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Reflections on the 2011 European CIO Leadership Forum

by Mark P. McDonald  |  April 8, 2011  |  1 Comment

This week in London marked the end of this year’s CIO Leadership Forum series.  What began in February in Dubai continued in March in Phoenix has come to a close.  The theme of this year’s forum has been Creative Destruction and Re-imagine IT.   A theme that resonated with CIOs here in London as almost 300 CIOs came to the workshops and presentations.  They join more than 150 CIOs in Dubai and almost 400 CIOs in Phoenix in sharing their insight on how to lead in their organizations.

Here are a few of my personal thoughts and reflections on the past few days in London.

Despite economic conditions in Europe, CIOs at this year’s leadership forum were asking about issues of growth, innovation, changing business models, rebuilding IT skills and governance.  The tone of the conversation was not what one would expect after two years of the global financial crisis.  But a recovery is underway and business leaders need to find sources of growth both at home and in emerging markets.

It is a time to find new answers to new questions rather than relying on new answers to old issues.  What do we mean by that?  Well it is no longer sufficient for CIOs to run IT, to fit demand with supply, to deliver projects on time, scope, or budget.  Doing that job no longer guarantees that you will keep your job, particularly in a world of increasing technology consumerization and choice.

It’s no longer sufficient for the reason that IT responsibilities and commitments no longer match.  Consider the following that while IT budgets for most CIOs remain stable or are slightly down, IT’s commitments are growing.

We polled the CIOs attending the conference and 86% of CIOs indicated that IT’s commitments increased in 2011.  Almost half of CIOs reported a significant increase in those commitments.

Increasing demands require new answers to IT’s traditional questions like cost, security, quality of service, infrastructure, etc.  But that is not what is going to reposition IT for success.  New answers to old questions create incremental improvements and that only remakes IT without changing its position or possibilities.

The workshop sessions at Forum focused on finding new answers to new questions related to growth, innovation, efficiency, etc.   Those questions shaped the tone at the forum focused on the hard work CIOs need to transform IT with sessions on IT metrics, mobile solutions, emerging technologies, cloud and working with the board.

CIOs are responding to this challenge and see it clearly based on the spot survey results below.

What is behind this diversity of interests?

Well things have changed over the past two years.  Changed ‘just enough’ to create the opportunity for CIOs to re-imagine and redefine their role and contribution.   By just enough, we mean:

  • the emergence of new expectations for growth, that requires IT to create new solutions and results.
  • the ability of internet infrastructures to change the cost, quality and capacity equation in the infrastructure
  • the capability of other technologies such as mobile computing, social media, and new forms of business intelligence

These open the door for CIOs to build on their strengths, reduce weak points and redirect resources where they will create the most value.  We call that re-imagining IT. Re-imagination requires creative destruction.

In response to these changes, the CIOs I worked with discussed topics ranging from:

  • Defining and executing new information and technology intensive strategies
  • Recognizing the future disruption of current business models and operations
  • Getting the right governance structure
  • Applying social media in support of intense collaboration
  • Leading the restructuring of IT resources to redirect resources to growth and innovation

At the end of the leadership seminar we asked CIOs where they would focus their attention, energy and ideas.

The results of that survey above point to the need to change the relationship between IT skills, Strategies and the working relationship with the business.  This creates a new CIO success cycle based on business and technology leadership.


CIOs need to rethink the allocation of resources across their budgets.  They need to apply a ‘new math’ for IT, one that consciously liberates resources by applying new infrastructure and operations technology, coupled with new management and sourcing practices.  CIOs then need to lead by applying those liberated resources toward growth and transformation rather than returning them to the CFO.  Think of it this way.

Consider an IT budget that is 70% dedicated to operations and 30% to growth.  Liberating even 10% of the operations budget through virtualization, consolidation, sourcing or moving to the cloud frees up 7% of the total budget.  Redirecting that budget to growth changes the mix from 30% to 37% — a 23% increase in your capacity to deliver business value.  The overall budget remains the same, but you have grown the amount of resources dedicated to growth, innovation and transformation – all top Business Priorities for 2011.

New approaches for working with the business revolving based on step level changes in IT productivity that enable the pace of IT change to match the pace of business change.  An expanding solution space extended through mobile and context computing etc. that leverage the extensive asset base.  These re the things that drive the CIO and IT capability to expand IT credibility.

Liberation and reallocation only works when you have the ability to actively manage IT skills.   CIOs need to re-imagine IT professionals not as a line item cost but rather your most important and flexible resource.  CIOs who bring this view to their organization recognize that they should be investing in building this source of sustainable advantage rather than hiring contractors creates a temporary fix that disappears as soon as the contractor walks out the door.

The combination of new skills and business solutions opens the door for new IT strategies and plans – but only if the CIO is willing to lead beyond what they have today to create the future needed tomorrow.

Based on working with the CIOs attending the CIO Leadership Forum they are up for the challenge.

Category: 2011  cio  management  re-imagine-it  strategic-planning  strategy  technology  

Tags: 2011-planning  cio-leadership  it-and-business  it-leadership  personal-observation  re-imagine-it  

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

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