CIOs focussing on strategic role: survey

This past July, CIO Canada polled readers on a variety of IT management issues for our 2005 CIO Insider Survey. The numbers have been crunched and the results are now in. Some of the key findings are as follows.

CIOs are becoming key business partners. Strategic activities, including internal strategic alliances, are top priorities for Canadian CIOs. They spend a significant proportion of their time interacting with their business peers and participating in the strategic decision-making process within their organizations.

“CIOs, in most cases, have to talk to every department as part of their job, so from my perspective there’s no doubt that CIOs need to participate at the highest levels with their peers to make sure the investments in systems provide the correct returns,” agreed Phil Cutter, CIO of Danier Leather.

To maximize the impact of IT on the business, Canadian CIOs will address, as their top priorities, initiatives that will result in improved customer satisfaction, enabling or driving business innovation, and reducing business costs through efficiency and increased productivity.

“From my perspective, that finding is close to bang-on,” agreed John D. Fort, Vice President, Information Technology, Zurich. “Two of the areas we’re focussing on are improved customer service experience and improved efficiency and productivity. As for driving or enabling business innovation, we do have such initiatives but they are somewhat lower priority because the paybacks are a little further out. Nevertheless, these business innovations are important too.”

Budgets and productivity remain a challenge for CIOs. Respondents reported that a backlog of projects and requests were the top impediment to effectiveness in their role. In order to meet this challenge, CIOs intend to hire rather than outsource as a means of acquiring the necessary skills.

There is also an increase in the understanding and expectations of the business with respect to IT. This is further supported by shared accountability for ROI between the business functions and IT in almost 60% of cases.

Danier’s Cutter cautioned that IT projects should be entirely owned by the user community that requires the application. “IT’s role is to properly interpret the business requirement with the primary user(s) and ensure that what gets implemented reflects the needs of the business,” he said. “To be sure, shared accountability is the best way to deliver systems that will meet everyone’s expectations. With ROI being the primary concern for most of us, the focus of sharing accountability between business functions must result in systems that provide information to the user community that is actionable.”

In 2004, “understanding business processes and operations” was one of the top three required skills listed by survey respondents. In the 2005 survey, this required skill was superseded by “The ability to motivate others”.

“IS professionals are very self-motivated, but CIOs still need to motivate them – get the most out of their staff, give them room to grow, and make some mistakes along the way,” noted Wayne Ground, CIO, Sony of Canada Ltd. “CIOs have to seek advice and suggestions from staff, and then follow through. Otherwise, it’s worse than not asking for suggestions.”

As an additional measure of CIOs’ effectiveness at interacting with their C-level peers, the 2004 top barrier to the CIOs’ effectiveness, “unknown or unrealistic expectations from the business” has lowered slightly. While inadequate budgets and time to devote to strategic planning remain key challenges since last year, the value of IT has clearly been acknowledged by Canadian enterprises, resulting in a “backlog of projects and requests” as the top challenge now facing CIOs.

When it comes to specific goals and initiatives, enhancing and integrating systems and processes, ensuring data security and integrity, and enabling business intelligence topped the list of priorities for the next 12 months. Open source software and new technology implementation ranked at the bottom of the priority list, suggesting that many Canadian organizations may be operating tactically, or are adopting a conservative approach to less established technologies.

There is also an optimism about technology, with a majority of respondents citing ‘enabled business innovation’ as a positive impact during the last 12 months. This trend is expected to continue in 2006.

For further information on the survey, see .

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