Posted by: Arun Gupta
business IT alignment, business technology, evolution of IT, role of the CIO
In recent times, there have been many consultants, research entities and academia discussing the IT organization’s transformation. The proposed concept seeks to rechristen IT to BT to reflect the new nature of the expected role. The rationale is largely around the fact that business drives technology within an enterprise. So the function should be called business technology (BT). Many CIOs like the new nomenclature, and have attempted to adopt this new symbol that represents their purported evolution and alignment.
Flashback to 2002; I interviewed for a Fortune 50 company’s Indian operations. The process progressed well, and I joined the company (which had a federated IT organization). The corporate IT organization was responsible for standards, infrastructure, architecture, and many applications that were supporting the operations. Then we had Manufacturing IT, which focused on the requirements of the manufacturing plants, connecting to suppliers, managing the manufacturing process, and running the warehouses. The company also had an R&D IT function that empowered the large and globally spread research teams with enabling technology solutions that were critical towards maintaining the company’s leadership position. Each IT organization head reported to the respective function head with dotted line to the global IT head; they had the flexibility and independence to create solutions or choose vendors. Last but not the least was the function called Business Technology, into which I was inducted.
Business Technology worked with the sales organization. It existed in almost every country that the company operated in, and reported to the CEO. It was the largest group and also the most powerful, since the sales teams connected with customers, and thus also had the power to garner larger IT budgets. Thus this name signified a closer relationship with business. It provided technology initiatives that impacted life everyday on the field connecting with customers, while competing with others in the industry. Not that those other teams were not aligned to their respective business folks, but the impact of changes was slower, and largely created internal efficiencies or benefit. Thus, every introduction to an outsider required a five minute discourse on why we were called Business Technology.
Was BT any different? We still had our challenges around vendors, change management, new initiatives, budget approvals, technology adoption, political issues, everything that a normal IT organization experiences every day. As the CIO, my role was acknowledged with a seat on the management table, but like every other CXO, it required consistent performance to keep it there. The basic expectation from the CIO was to create business value, challenge status quo, and participate in all discussions around the table that influenced the company’s future direction.
So, what about the role today? The CIO is required to do all of the above, sometimes even fight to get a seat on the management table; in a few cases where the CIO does not report to the CEO, they are dependent on other CXOs to be their voice in the management team meetings. Will the change in name to business technology bring about the transformation and fast track the evolution and acceptance of the function better than when it is plain old IT? I guess not–the enterprise, the IT leader, and the culture largely contribute to its success. BT happened almost a decade back, evolution is catching up.
After all, as the bard said it a long time back, “What’s in a name; that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”!