In conjuring up the title of this blog post, I was struck by how much it reads like a magazine headline—the kind you see while on the supermarket check-out line. As sensationalistic as it sounds, it comprises the main takeaway from Dell’s nationwide workshops, “How to Bolster the Role of the CIO”—in a time of increasing business and economic change, the role of the CIO is changing in exciting ways. Leveraging that change requires starting with a conversation that CIOs, CEOs and other members of the C-suite should be having, but aren’t. 

First, the background: Dell hosted a series of workshops attended by more than 130 CIOs who contributed more than 700 hours debating the future role of the CIO. The basis of that conversation was around the renewed movement towards the decentralization of IT in favor of business-unit delivery of information technology. We discovered this via some original research done with Harvard Business Review and the Economist Intelligence Unit, as well as by observing the commentary of industry thought leaders and exemplars. Factoring in the growing reliance on externally delivered cloud-based technologies and the increasing emphasis on services and OPEX versus CAPEX and products, it has become clear that CIOs must adapt or risk being marginalized. Increasingly, the CIO and IT must be seen less as merely developing and deploying technology, and more as a source of innovation and transformation that delivers business value, leveraging technology instead of directly delivering it. In the end, the CIO must be responsible if technology enables, facilitates or accelerates competition that the C-suite didn’t see coming, or allows the enterprise to miss opportunities because the C-suite did not understand the possibilities technology offered.

This changing image starts in the C-suite. Currently, CIOs are not engaged in the strategic decision-making that goes on at the executive level. Only 46 percent of CEOs think their CIOs understand the business. To be fair to the CIO, CEOs have created this problem by emphasizing efficiency and cost-cutting over value creation. However, time and time again, statistics show that CIO and C-suite alignment drives financial success. Economic performance for organizations whose CIOs were part of the overall development of strategy outpaced that of other organizations by a scale of two to one. It is clear that CIOs must lead their organization in providing balance between efficiency and efficacy.

CIOs must be an integral and vocal part of conversations on new ventures and resource allocation. The role and effect of technology should be a part of conversations on business decisions, and the CIO should have a pertinent and relevant point of view. In this way, the role of the CIO must be strategic instead of tactical.

Every time the C-suite decides to start a new venture—whether it’s business- or IT-related—a CIO needs to ask three major questions:

  • Does it create value for the customer?
  • Are we required to do it for legal or regulatory reasons?
  • Are we the best in the world at it?

If the answer to all of these questions is “no,” you shouldn’t be doing it. It’s that simple.

Once these questions are answered, executives can develop an affirmative strategy that involves identifying old behaviors to give up, new behaviors to take up, and what to do differently. That strategy will be shaped by four trends or forces that are rapidly changing our world, or, as we call them, “the 2.0s” (Enterprise, Management, Economics and Capitalism, and IT.)  

These next steps make up the major takeaways from the roundtable discussions at our workshops, which I will be detailing in future blog posts. We will also be continuing the dialogue at the CIO Leadership Event, May 5-7, 2013 in Boca Raton, FL. Join us.

Please stay tuned and contribute your thoughts to the discussion. We look forward to talking more with you.