Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Apr 11 2011   6:26AM GMT

CIO as intrapreneur

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

To be a good and an effective CIO has always been a challenge. I have been in various organizations and what I could achieve depended a lot on the organization’s understanding and approach to IT. I would group these organizations into the following types:

1. Organizations which are forward looking, where the CEO is dynamic and articulate enough to spell out his vision of making the business win with the help of IT.
2. Organizations where the CEO wants IT to be effective but leaves it to the CIO to define his own role.
3. Organizations who are indifferent and don’t care much.

Changing business expectations
All high performance organizations display the first two characteristics. They demand more out of IT and are supportive of various IT initiatives that address business needs. Here, the CEO encourages his managers to be self-starters and to take initiatives to make the organization effective in winning over its competition. With the markets changing faster than before, CEOs want their managers to rise up and act; in short, they want their managers to be intrapreneurs.

Who is an intrapreneur?
An intrapreneur is a person who has an entrepreneurial skill set but works within an organisation, enterprise, or venture. An intrapreneur thinks like an entrepreneur seeking out opportunities, which benefit the corporation. It is a new way of thinking, in making companies more productive and profitable.

It is no surprise that with increased competition, CEO wants his managers to be innovative and to add that extra muscle with which the company can score over others. In such circumstances, therefore, CIO has a great opportunity to stand up and get counted. In my opinion, it is crucial for CIO to boldly take that step forward and come out of his comfort zone. He will no doubt face challenges but he has to learn to get over them. However, to come out trumps, he will have to imbibe the following qualities.

Initiative: He will have to step forward on his own and not wait for someone to call him over. He has to look around, sense the requirement and move in to address the issue. He has to seize opportunities to add value.

Business understanding: He has to develop a close understanding of the business by engaging with managers from other functions and visiting areas of work like the shop floor, warehouses, sales offices, vendors, dealer sites, customers etc. That would give him the right perspective and context of various business operations. His appreciation of the issues will lead him towards better solutioning.

Innovation: Standard solutions are passé. Companies today need new solutions and breakthrough ideas to take a leap in the markets. Apart from new technology solutions to address business issues, he could suggest new ideas to cover areas that have hitherto been unaddressed.

Thinking big: Gone are the days of incremental changes and improvements. At a time when organisations are looking for fast growth, a CIO can’t think of playing safe and moving cautiously. Whether it is about using a new technology, revamping our systems, re-architecting the IT setup, or taking up large projects, he has to act fast and decisively after doing proper due diligence. His risk taking ability will come to fore and he should be ready to put his neck on the block. As they say, the greater the risk, greater the profit.

Run his role as a business: The thinking has to move from being purely a service organization to being a critical part of business. It is not just about delivering some user needs but about helping the organization to win and grow rapidly. He has to be conscious of the benefits derived and the expenses incurred.

In my opinion, there has never been a better time for the CIO to assert himself. We have been, for long, talking about the CIO playing a second fiddle in organizations; but ‘here – now’ is the great time for him to make that quantum jump and get into the next orbit.

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