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What I learned from CIOs at Gartner’s first Symposium in India

by Mark P. McDonald  |  November 25, 2011  |  1 Comment

This past week marked a milestone as Gartner brought its symposium format to India for the first time.  More than 1,000 Indian IT professionals met in Mumbai to learn, discussion, participate and contribute to each other on issues ranging from cloud computing to the future of IT itself.  Between the presentations, workshops and 1 on 1 discussion this is what I learned from the CIOs in attendance.

India is a diverse and dynamic economy at the center of transformation of the IT industry and of the nation itself.

IT’s evolving role

While CIOs are continuing their focus on building out administrative and ‘management’ systems they see the need to evolve their role in the enterprise toward more direct business impact in areas like revenue generation and innovation.  The progression from IT as a function to IT enables the business to a goal of IT contribution has happened faster in India than in any other market I have visited. CIOs in Indian companies looking to raise IT’s role need to demonstrate ITs value and how it

Leadership and Management Capability

Leadership and management talent within Indian companies are as good as anywhere in the world, but talent is thin and unevenly distributed around the company.  Companies are growing well where it is concentrated and encountering problems in areas where operational demands have outstripped management capability.

IT is seen as a way to make up for limited management capability, by creating more controls and process.  That approach may work in the short term, but it establishes IT in a role of protecting/preventing improvement and as responsible for poor performance, particularly when managers have to work around IT to create results.

This represents a particular trap for CIOs as they respond positively for requirements to build new control systems without requiring a requisite increase in management capability.  This sets the stage for misinterpretation of IT’s role and value as when good managers do appear, they frequently have to fight through constraints created by IT to protect the company from prior weak management.  This makes IT seem like a stumbling block or barrier. It makes it the object of management derision rather than enablement.

A better course of action is to keep Executive Responsibility focused on building management capability and capacity.  Link future plans for new systems investments to management education, recruitment and employment so the organization has the people to lead and knows how to use the system to get results.

Cloud Computing is part of the plan

Interest in cloud computing was particularly high with the CIOs and others at Symposium.  Cloud, while not immediately or widely available, is part of future CIO plans despite challenges related to internet reliability and the cost of workstation computing.  From what CIOs were discussing, it looks like plans for cloud call for fusing it with mobile and handset technologies to enable work processes and practices at a national scale.  When you consider the scale and geographic diversity of India this approach seems a reasonable path for future investigation.

Social media is of increasing interest.

Social media was of particular concern as Indian companies look at what is happening in popular culture and other countries.  India is ripe with social media potential as it is a young country with 50% of people under the age of 25. India is also a diverse country creating opportunites for mass collaboration as a path to greater performance.  Indian CIOs indicate that their executive teams are wary of social media either seeing it as Folly or Fearful that social media is a waste of time and uncessary distraction.  Both attitudes are understandable, but CIOs are interested in seeing what mass collaboration might bring to their organizations. Assess your own company at


Indian CIOs indicate that their organizations are at multiple places all at the same time.  Organizationally they are evolving from closely run companies with an emphasis on hierarchy toward divisionalized business units.  Technologically they are leapfrogging the functional and task based technology investments to adopt leading information, process and mobile-based solutions.  Managerially they are dealing with a diversity of management talent and the need to build capability.  Globally Indian companies are playing on a world stage in ways never contemplated before either by the nation or by the leadership teams.

This is a dynamic time for Indian companies in general and their use of technology in particular. The decisions they make will re-imagine the organization, IT and their future.  It was an honor to talk with CIOs who are leading from the front and I look forward to future symposium in India.

Category: 2012  cio  economy  leadership  management  strategic-planning  

Tags: 2012-planning  it-strategy  leadership  personal-observation  strategy-and-planning  symposium  

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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