Last year I asked 23 leading CIOs in Australia and Great Britain what they would request if they found a magic wand. The most common response was a desire to complete straight away IS's foundation stones. These CIOs recognised that before they could maximise e-commerce opportunities they had to make sure their businesses were not built on technological sand. They had to address issues like systems integration, common operating environments, robust and flexible networks, data cleansing and information management. Most of these tasks were laborious with no immediate ROI. And therein lies the rub: the majority of these CIOs worked for an executive for whom instant gratification was not soon enough.
CIOs know they have to get runs on the board while working on these foundation stones. The common tactic is to look for quick win activities. These build kudos for IS in the executive suite, while giving the CIO "breathing space" to work on long-term infrastructure challenges. Unfortunately, this can be easier said than done. CEOs aren't always the best at communicating their needs to IS. What then are CEOs' priorities?
Two recent research reports provide some insights. The operational benchmarking organisation, Compass Analysis, through the London Business School, recently interviewed 400 CEOs around the world regarding their thinking about IT and business strategy. In addition, the executive recruitment firm Heidrick and Struggles surveyed 656 CEOs for insights into the top three marketplace and management issues on their agenda over the next year.
Both highlighted concerns that CEOs had with marketplace competition and mergers and acquisitions. IT, and e-commerce in particular, were seen as important. Internally, the CEOs' focus was on customer retention and reducing costs. However, the Compass study revealed a major challenge for CIOs: around 75 per cent of CEOs indicated they were not very comfortable either using IT or in understanding its business potential. This seems to indicate that CIOs are dealing with a customer who has high hopes but limited understanding of the challenges of getting there.
This may then explain the dichotomy between where CEOs and CIOs think IS can contribute to the organisation's competitive advantage. CEOs spoke about IS needing to build CRM systems and implement technology more rapidly. CIOs believe they need to focus more on improving the organisation's IS infrastructure. While better customer care and responsiveness are high on their agenda, it appears that business may not appreciate it needs to walk before it can run with IS.