The front page of a business newspaper carried an interview of some of the big 5 IT services company CEOs that had me engrossed as these industry captains shape the direction for the industry, influence decision making and are consulted by global CEOs on IT strategy and direction. Thus the interest was high to gain from the collective wisdom as they talked about their experiences with global CIOs, decision making process, budgets, successes and finally their perceptions of where CIOs could and should be.
There were some clear messages:
- The global economy will continue to remain under pressure for the next couple of years
- Outsourcing deals will be smaller and of shorter duration as IT budgets will see a lot more rigor in the discussion
- Talent shortage will squeeze growth for IT companies and Cloud computing will keep the hardware industry challenged.
- The CIO-role will change again with technology evolution–the difference between the good and the challenged CIO will widen.
A vested interest?
They outlined the differences on how CIOs across geographies and industries outsourced core and non-core activities to focus on what matters, i.e. you guessed it right, the business. But then they also mention in the same breath that CIOs that did not outsource remained challenged to align the IT objectives to business. Whether it is remote infrastructure management (RIM), or application maintenance, and everything in between, the message was clear, outsource or perish, get relegated to reporting to the CFO.
Huh? Now that is simplistically stretching a facet of the CIOs role to create a perception that outsourcing can be equated with strategic intent. If you don’t outsource, then you and your team is busy with things that do not matter to the business and thus you are likely to remain alienated. Was there a vested interest in the words from these CEOs who have been struggling to grow their business? Some had taken over from ousted CEOs with a clear mandate to bring back the old days of high growth.
Time to introspect!
While I am a proponent of outsourcing and have partnered with IT service companies big and small to give away the technical or operational activities, in my experience there have also been cases of outsourcing not delivering to promise. CIOs connected with the pulse of the business draw the line on what needs to be given away and what should be retained. The company’s focus, perceptions of core, and finally the financial health determine what operating model should be adopted by the CIO.
The CEOs went on to talk about CIOs need to engage their stakeholders on what matters. People in a glasshouse do not throw stones at others. My plea to the same CEOs is to introspect a bit before preaching to their customers, the CIOs. The sales heads of the same companies want to engage with the CIO on nitty-gritties of technology that even the next level in the IT department rarely gets involved in (OMG, I saw a data center). They do not practice what they preach. A few CIOs I met the next day agree!
So what separates the good from the challenged? I do not for a moment believe that it is as simple as outsourcing operations or infrastructure or total outsourcing; a good CIO is a well-rounded leader who manages people and perceptions while ensuring that the delivery of promise is consistent with quality that is visible. S/he communicates effectively in all situations and is able to challenge business and IT partners/vendors in a discussion on the right solutions to business problems enabled by technology.
Is this the finite list? No again, there is no checklist that determines the difference; you have to find your balance.