Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Jul 3 2012   9:23AM GMT

Key challenges of the ‘shared CIO’

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

I have written about the topic of CIO lending some time to help organizations with their IT deployments. Since the CIO is available for rendering service to other organizations at the same time, he becomes a shared CIO. I also wrote about different types of roles that he takes on such assignments. What we need to discuss now is proper execution of his task so that he plays an effective role in the client organization.

Since this concept is still developing, the contours of this service have not yet been clearly marked. Many from the CIO community are already working on such assignments with different companies but the scope of their work differs. Based on their experiences they tweak the scope to make it workable although such learning is not shared with the community at large. It is therefore important that we have a forum to discuss and learn from each other’s experiences.

The CIO when taking this task faces various challenges. Not being a full time role and being different from the conventional role of a functional head, this task is not fully understood by the other managers in the organization. The CIO therefore has to struggle to establish himself. In this note, I am putting down a few challenges that are often faced and actions which could help managing the scene better.

  • Clear definition of CIO’s role missing

It is very important to define the scope of his services right at the beginning. Many a time we start with a general understanding of the scope and this is what lands us in trouble. An overarching purpose stating the scope as a ‘review of the IT systems and making it more relevant to business’ is somewhat vague. It is necessary to be specific about the role whether he would just be an adviser coming in at important meetings or a consultant whoa would undertake a review and advice periodically or as a functioning part time CIO managing the IT function. He should also arrive at an understanding with the management on the frequency of reporting on status and his recommendations.

  • Managing expectations

We sometimes rush into laying down deliverables at the start under pressure from the company. While it is important to have clear understanding of deliverables, it is but fair to ask for a month’s time to study the organization’s status and arrive at the measures that need to be taken in the short term and for working out plans for the future.

The actual status and the prevailing problems are at times different than what is perceived. Therefore an initial assessment is important to start with the right set of assumptions. Differing expectations are sometimes a stumbling block which is played up by political groups within the organization. The plans put up should also state assumptions with respect to employees’ participation and the management support desired.

  • Powers and responsibilities of the CIO not predetermined

This is an area which in my opinion is the most challenging. In a role where he is supposed to oversee and monitor the IT function, he is expected to assume ownership. Since he is not in an executive function, he does not have powers to approve projects, select vendors or even to appraise IT staff. He may just recommend; in such cases he has responsibility on his shoulders but no powers.

The best arrangement would be that he is given powers like a regular CIO where his recommendation on technology solutions is put up to the executive board, he has a say in selecting and buying  products and is given the right to write the appraisals for IT staff and others whom he is supposed to supervise. If he continues to be treated like an outsider without a place in the organization hierarchy, he may suffer from a handicap and would be less effective.

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