IBM's CIO study reveals where you should focus your IT leadership efforts

In September this year (2009) I was invited to New York City by IBM to preview their soon to be released CIO study. Very soon after my return home I wrote up an insightful, relevant, and actionable blog post on what I learned at the event. Of course you are going to have to take my word on this, as for some reason I can't find it... It has disappeared into the ether (perhaps I didn't hit the "Save" button at the bottom of the page?). So, despite that fact that the study was released three months ago, I am going to redo my analysis of the study - although now that some local (Australian & Indian - sorry rest of Asia Pacific!) results have been released there is some more relevant information available.

The study was a large one - particularly as the respondents were only CIOs. IBM completed 2,500 interviews across 78 countries and 19 industries. According to those who managed the study, they spent many days locked in rooms looking for trends in the data - looking for ways to differentiate CIOs from each other - they looked at industries, geographies, and other differentiators, and could find no real differentiators - until they looked at the performance of the entire organisation. 

So for those who have not heard the findings of the results, the main findings were as follow:
  • CIOs have three main goals (1) to make innovation real; (2) to raise the ROI of IT; (3) to expand business impact  
  • Successful CIOs blend three pairs of roles: Insightful Visionary and Able Pragmatist; Savvy Value Creator and Relentless Cost Cutter; and Collaborative Business Leader and Inspiring IT Manager. By integrating these three pairs of roles, the CIO works to achieve three primary goals: to make innovation real, raise the ROI of IT and expand business impact.
  • CIOs at high growth companies (i.e. revenue/profit growth above the average) had a very different profile than CIOs at low growth companies (i.e. revenue/profit growth below the average).
  • In an ashamedly self-promotional manner, the findings also helped to justify Forrester's role-based approach to research. An assumption in becoming a role-focused organisation was that people's roles are similar, regardless of the geography, industry, or company size. This study has helped to prove that fact
In order to summarise these three main goals, and how the seemingly conflicting roles co-exist, I will lift straight from the Australian "New Voice of the CIO" report:

Makes Innovation Real
  • It’s not enough to just plan for innovation – it needs a robust foundation. When acting as an Insightful Visionary, a CIO is perceptive, promoting a broad technology agenda to help the business profit from leading-edge initiatives. The flip side of the Visionary is the Able Pragmatist role. As a Pragmatist, a CIO deals with the realities of the business. The Pragmatist also facilitates the productivity of current IT solutions to allow more time and budget for innovation.
Raises the ROI of IT
  • Using IT to produce greater business value is vital, accompanied by an ongoing focus on lower costs and higher efficiency. A Savvy Value Creator finds new ways to help customers and the organisation profit from how data is used. The Relentless Cost Cutter, its counterpart, is focused on managing budgets and processes to eliminate or reduce costs.
Expands business impact
  • To contribute the most to an organisation, proven expertise in both business and technical matters is vital. Part of the time, CIOs will engage with the enterprise as Collaborative Business Leaders, to drive new business initiatives and cultural shifts jointly with fellow CXOs. At other times, the Inspiring IT Manager role occupies centre stage to motivate the IT organisation and deliver superior IT performance.

Australian CIOs tend to err towards "Able Pragmatists" - which is no huge surprise. In fact I would suggest that this is probably the case for CIOs in many countries across Asia Pacific - apart from India of course (and probably parts of China). The Indian CIOs were focused on the other end of the same spectrum - being an insightful visionary (interestingly, the CIOs at low and high growth organisations in India had remarkably similar characteristics!).


So the big question is what you can take out of this study. Well I would suggest - and I am sure you will agree - that the analysis I have given is very limited - you are best recommended to read the global, Australian or Indian study results yourself. One thing it is extremely important to realise is that being a CIO at a "high or low performing organisation" is not a good or bad thing. The study shows that there is a difference between the two - it does not make any attempt to say that one is the cause of the other i.e. a CIO with the skills for a high performing organisation does not necessarily have the ability to make a low performing organisation perform more effectively. What IS however useful, it to understand all the skills required by CIOs in different businesses. Being able to match your skills to your business - and to know where you should focus your efforts in terms of making a difference to your own skill set and answering the needs of your business is important for IT leaders across the Asia Pacific region to focus on. This study helps define some of the characteristics you will need to display in order to be successful in your role - and hence help your company succeed.

Do you have any thoughts, feedback, or comments? Feel free to post them below - or otherwise e-mail me direct here.