Gartner: Successful CIOs Build Credibility Cycle

Today's CIOs must create a "virtuous credibility cycle" in which the IT departments they lead consistently deliver positive results that are closely tied to business strategy, Gartner fellow and vice president say.

ORLANDO, Fla.—For todays chief information officers, leadership credibility is the key factor that will determine their career longevity, according to two senior Gartner researchers speaking Monday at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo here.

CIOs must create a "virtuous credibility cycle" in which the IT departments they lead consistently deliver positive results that are closely tied to their organizations business strategy, according to Marianne Broadbent, associate dean of the Melbourne Business School in Australia and a Gartner fellow.

Broadbent and Ellen Kitzis, a vice president at Gartner Inc., said in a joint presentation that CIOs cant succeed just by being effective IT managers. They have to have leadership qualities and personal influence, as well as business and organizational intelligence resources to make sure they are in tune with their employers business goals.

Broadbent and Kitzis have written a book on the subject, "The New CIO Leader: Setting the Agenda and Delivering the Results," due for release in December by the Harvard Business School Press.

Without these attributes, CIOs risk finding that theyre rapidly losing the support of their CEOs or even of the corporate board of directors.

The problem is that many CIOs dont understand where their credibility and resulting organizational support come from, Broadbent and Kitzis say. Every successful IT project and initiative builds credibility, while every failure "chips away" at it. Rather than building a virtuous credibility cycle, many CIOs quickly descend into a vicious cycle of descending credibility that sooner or later will prompt their boss to show them the door, Kitzis said.

Kitzis and Broadbent say CIOs should set and carry out 10 priorities to build sound credibility both with management and with their own IT organizations. They break these down into six priorities on the "demand side" to keep management happy, and four priorities on the supply side related to IT department performance.

On the demand side, CIOs must make sure that they thoroughly understand their organizations business environment. They need make sure they can effectively weave the IT strategy with the business strategy. Furthermore, they need to create their own vision for shaping the IT organization so it can deliver systems that conform to the IT strategy.

At the same time, they need to be capable of shaping and managing expectations so results are delivered on time as promised. Finally, they need to form a clear IT governance policy that senior management and the IT department understand and accept.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about Ron Markezich, the CIO of Microsofts IT organization since May.

CIOs wont meet these demand-side priorities unless they are equally successful in meeting the supply-side priorities, according to Broadbent and Kitzis. These involve building a new information systems organization that can respond rapidly to the organizations business environment and strategy.

This involves developing a high-performing IT team capable of carrying out the CIOs vision. The CIO has to be able to manage the risks involved in implementing any new IT application or strategy. Finally, the CIO has to be proactive in demonstrating what the IT department is delivering to the organization on an ongoing basis.

Its not sufficient for CIOs to be good managers or expert technologists, Broadbent and Kitzis said. They also have to be skilled at building relationships upward and downward in the organization.

They have to be sensitive to the political winds blowing within the organization and respond to them constructively. "If you dont enjoy politics, forget about being a CIO," Broadbent said.

This also requires that CIOs have "emotional intelligence" that allows them to empathize with people. "You need to learn what makes them tick—what motivates them" and how to reward them.

But one of the challenges to pursuing a credibility strategy is the rapid change of business conditions and requirements, along with the lack of flexibility in the current generation of enterprise application software. This problem was highlighted in a Gartner analyst keynote on "Preparing for Software-Driven Business Transformation."

Yvonne Genovese, a Gartner research vice president, described a client that spent $20 million in 18 months to successfully build an important business application that fully met all design goals and business requirements. But within a short time, the business requirements changed, rendering the application obsolescent, Genovese said.

The enterprise faced the choice of spending another huge amount of money to update the application or going to an outsourcing service that would deliver an application that would address the new business requirements, she said.

"They concluded that outsourcing would probably make the problem worse" because the outsourcer would either refuse to make future business requirement changes or would add equally hefty charges to revise the application, Genovese said.

A potential solution to this problem, Gartner analysts suggested, is the use of SOA (service-oriented architecture) and Web services technology that might allow more rapid and cost-effective revisions to address changes in business conditions.

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John Pallatto

John Pallatto

John Pallatto has been editor in chief of QuinStreet Inc.'s since October 2012. He has more than 40 years of experience as a professional journalist working at a daily newspaper and...