While the Indian CIO remains focused on technology, his western counterpart leaves that to the CTO and spends more time on strategy matters. As a result, the Indian CIO is likely to be more familiar with the nitty-gritty of technology as compared with a CIO in an American company. But the American CIO would be spending a lot more time with the company’s senior management and customers. There’s still some debate on this issue in India Inc. The CIO-CTO split is something that will happen over time, but and the lines cannot be so strongly drawn at a senior level.
Companies are realizing that technology will be at the forefront of all major business decisions they are likely to introduce a higher degree of specialization in their job profiles. As this happens, the CIO’s everyday duties are changing and many of them are spending time on finding solutions to real business problems. It could be process, people, and incidentally, technology too.
CIOs have become advisors and moved from pure defined service to seeing what can they do dramatically different. At ICICI, a key part of CIO’s job is to see what learning and processes can be applied from one part of the group to others. The CIOs office is like the engine room where you have a good sense of who is doing what operationally and can provide inputs on how to leverage investments across the group and become force multipliers. The IT team needs to have a high level of business intimacy and implied expertise on the business process. In many ways, IT and business must have a symbiotic and collaborative relationship to bring in strategic value addition of the IT investment. Some IT jobs are outsourced to vendors and now a CIO job is also to find the best vendors and to manage them. Most of the hard core technology work has been outsourced to vendors or to group company, Essar Information Technology. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that all companies are at the same level of evolution.
If we take an India-wide average of a CIO’s duties with technology and business at the two ends, there will be a strong tilt towards the tech end, with about 60-70 % of their time focused on it. The balance 30% too, is generally not directly to business issues, but how to interpret technology to implement certain business decisions. It is primarily in sectors where technology is a major revenue driver like financial services, retail, telecom and automobiles that the CEOs are far more aware of the role the CIO can play in the business.
The decision to focus on IT has to come from the top. IT can be a competitive advantage in the business which is why it is given so much importance.
As CIOs prepare to throw in their hats with other CXOs for the top job, they find themselves in a race to prove their worth. IT is like any other business function, so there is no reason why the head of the function can’t make it to the board or the top job. In India though, it will take a little longer as not many companies are deploying IT to the extent that they can. For CIOs, innovative deployment of emerging technologies to grow and remain ahead of competition will be the key. The business will look towards them to bring in adaptability, not just from the IT, but also from the business point of view.