The Changing DNA of the CIO

The modern CIO is more of a business professional who manages technology for bringing together a diverse range of business processes and relationships, and develops strategies for connecting with customers in new ways

By Ankush Kumar

The position of a CIO is thought to have come into existence in USA during the late 1980s or the early 1990s, around the same period when the open systems hardware and the enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications came into being. Earlier the CIOs were concerned mostly with the IT infrastructure, their job was confined to ensuring that the systems were running smoothly. But the rapid advancement in the digital technologies and the fact that the modern IT systems are playing a critical role in enabling the business to run smoothly and stay competitive, the expectations that the organisations have from their CIO has changed.

The CIO is now expected to have a comprehensive knowledge of not just the IT systems, but also the business processes, so that he can reinvigorate the organisation by using technology on an optimal scale to create new business processes, which will generate better business value. The CIOs are shifting from reactively supporting the IT needs of the organisation to proactively initiating the plans for bringing structural and cultural changes within the organisation so that there is more efficiency and growth.

Changing Role of CIO

Ashvin Vellody, Partner – Management Consulting, KPMG in India, says, “A CIO is now expected to be much more of an influencer, a shaper, a business strategiser.” He informs that in the Indian enterprises we are now seeing an increasing trend of CIOs interacting more actively with the senior management for taking key decisions within the organisation. “Mobile, BYOD and cloud-based computing are presenting new challenges and new opportunities before all the organisations. The issue of cyber security has also taken centre stage. In such a scenario the role of the CIO is bound to become more critical for the success of the enterprise,” he adds.

Samiron Ghoshal, Partner & Leader – IT Advisory Services, E&Y, points out that the role of CIO has now split into two categories— there is the CTO and there is the CIO. The CTOs, he explains, are basically the technology people, whereas the CIO is supposed to be versed in both, technology and business processes. “A worldwide survey estimates that 20% of the CIOs now carry double titles: Head of Business Transformation, Head of Business Process Change or Management and sometimes they are even called the Head of Supply Chain,” says Ghoshal.

He is of the view that the modern CIO is someone who plays the role of a technology integrator and evangelist. “The CIO gets business and technology together by taking care of four key responsibilities— Infrastructure, Integration, Intelligence and Innovation,” he adds. He explains that the CIO, as the person responsible for infrastructure, manages the existing infrastructure — as a Chief Integration Officer, he is responsible for developing integration between the external and internal data and systems— as the Chief Intelligence Officer, he fosters business intelligence and gets the right data to the right people within the organisation.

According to Ghoshal many of the CIOs today are having MBA degree and they are mostly without any technical qualification. However, they do have a general interest in the area of technology.

CIO as Business Enabler

The idea that the role of the CIO has now gone beyond technology and innovation related issues, and has now reached the domains of strategy and planning, is emphasised by Sayed Peerzade, Chief Information Officer, Reliance Big Entertainment & Reliance Entertainment – Digital. He says, “Days are gone where IT was considered to be the cost center and treated as an isolated entity. The CIO’s role has become more challenging with the emergence of new technologies, which have a critical influence on the growth of any business organisation. CIOs are no longer technocrats, they are being looked at as business enablers. They are expected to take risks, and they need to have extensive knowledge of planning and strategy.”

As a case in point, Peerzade gives the example of how his own career has grown in Reliance. In the early days of his career, his role was confined to looking after Zapak business, which was a high growth segment. Over a period of time, other groups got formed into the organisation to manage different lines of business. Later on the company realised that there are many entities in the group that are using similar technology to reach out to their customers, and then Peerzade was given the charge of developing the IT strategy for the entire group.

“My new responsibility was to incorporate technology for bringing agility to the business, so that there is improvement in the time-cycle in which we place our products into the market and the cost of doing business is also manageable. I have consolidated the entire stack of online businesses from the traditional DC to an one cloud platform. We have successfully performed technology migration to private cloud. By successfully completing this project, we are able to reduce 80% of the server footprint, and have eliminated 70% of the operating costs, with permanent elimination of Capex requirements,” says Peerzade.

Avinash Velhal, Group CIO, Atos, is of the view that the role of the CIO is especially critical in the IT services industry. He says, “In the services industry, we not only have to manage internal IT support, we also need to keep a check on the deliveries going to the end-customer. These customer related deliveries use the same internal shared infrastructure and connectivity. It is uphill task to manage customer satisfaction, because most of the IT users are tech-savvy.”

According to Velhal, his most major contribution to Atos was in the area of mobilising and fast tracking M&A activities. He has played a seminal role in integrating the organisation and ensuring that the transition management is as smooth as possible. “Over the past 4 years there has been M&As of Siemens IT services, Bull, Xerox ACS. This has almost doubled the employee count in India to 14000+,” informs Velhal.

CIO as the Next CEO

Biswajeet Mahapatra, Research director, Gartner, says that there is no industry in this age which is not working on a digitisation plan. “Digitisation has taken banking, insurance, logistics, media, telecom, government, manufacturing, and many other industries by storm. One cannot imagine going on a digitisation path without having a competent and strong CIO. We clearly see different kinds of CIOs evolving in the next 5-10 years,” he says.

There are many who are of the view that as IT continues to gain a significant hold on all aspects of the business, the role of the CIO becomes as critical as that of a CEO. “New innovations in technology has brought the CIO to the centre-stage. There is now no dearth of opportunities for any ambitious CIOs to make their mark on the business.” says Hemant Kulkarni, Deputy General Manager – Corporate IT, Kirloskar Electric Company Ltd.

Ashok Kannan, Group CIO, Salcomp, agrees that it is possible for a CIO to be promoted to a CEO at some stage of his career. “In order to become the CEO, the CIO must be completely business-oriented and he must possess enough management skills,” he says.

MG Raghuraman, Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer at Mphasis believes that in the next 10 years the role of a CIO is going to get federated. “We will have more and more business aligned CIOs. They will work more towards transforming digital world and digital solutions to transform the business.”

Sharing his views on whether a CIO can become the next CEO of an organisation, Raghuraman says “It is a paradigm shift where a CIO has to make a deliberate and conscious decision to move away from just focusing on technological solutions and start putting the organisation on priority. The CIO also needs to work towards improving the quality of the team. It would require a change of mind set wherein being up to date about business and industry is required to make key business decisions.”

AtosCEOChanging RoleCIOCTOEYGartnerKirloskar Electric CompanykpmgMphasisReliance EntertainmentSalcomp
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