Chief Strategy Officer: Got What It Takes?

In the "e" world, little makes sense, but what does is made coherent by a fluid approach to money, markets, management and technology.

In the "e" world, little makes sense, but what does is made coherent by a fluid approach to money, markets, management and technology. Its a matter of finding equilibrium in a shifting sea with few recognizable markers. Keep all these variables under control, and youll fill a very valuable role at your company. I like to call it "chief strategy officer."

Here are the fundamentals:

Integration. Make sure new systems are deeply integrated, and dont settle for systems that provide only weekly updates. Think real time.

Mixed environments. Dont try for a single-company solution. The future is about platform-neutral networks.

Common sense. Forget the ribbon-cutting ceremonies. Know that your superiors expect results, so make sure you are delivering value.

Consensus. Accept responsibility for your vision and strategy, but work to achieve "e-in" on the part of others.

Focus. Dont fix what isnt broken, but look for the areas where return is large and lethargy has dangerous consequences.

These principles are easy to articulate but much harder to put into practice. Some e-business leaders are succeeding, though. Take Marcia Balestrino, CIO of the Girl Scouts of the USA, and John Atwater, director of IT for the YMCA of Greater New York.

Both show that its possible to be a chief strategist who melds the qualities of both CTO and CIO. At GSUSA, Balestrino is passionate about the need to establish methodologies that will be applied to delivering technological value in an increasingly e-centric organization. Because GSUSA has a huge reach—with hundreds of chapters across the country—she shuns extensive use of home-grown applications. Shes applying this approach to building a vast new membership system.

Atwater cut his teeth in finance and has a keen perspective on the bottom-line costs associated with IT. Hes also refreshingly progressive on new technologies and their value in achieving the Ys mission.

Atwater relies on a "concept, design, prototype, test and move on" approach, typical of strong strategists. He knows it makes little sense to spend three years on an e-initiative only to learn that the world has changed and nothings been done. One of his challenges is increasing sales and membership retention for the YMCA in New York by bringing enterprise information to the Web.

Balestrinos and Atwaters approaches are impressive in bringing everything their organizations do to the electronic world. Startup CTOs have it easy; they spend till there is no more or till they are no more. Real-world IT leaders know how to strike the perfect balance.