CIO 2.0: The Chief Impact Officer

By Hank Leingang

(Back to article)

Drive improvements in customer satisfaction. Decrease cost of goods sold. Validate end-to-end business processes. Create internet-based revenue opportunities. These are high-impact mandates, but who should lead the charge? 

A recent Gartner report on the evolution of CIOs toward a greater strategic business role should strike either anxiety or inspiration in the heart of any good chief information officer, because these responsibilities may soon be on the plates of more CIOs.


In a survey of 1,500 CIOs, Gartner found that 85 percent of them “see business expectations of IT taking a big leap in 2008 … CIOs are now expected to deliver the solutions that make the enterprise different in a way that matters to company performance and customer satisfaction,” Gartner said in January 2008.[1]


In other words, the ideal of CIOs becoming key players in the business arena is taking shape. Call it CIO 2.0 — the evolution of the IT czar into the role of “chief impact officer.” Call it the SCIO — the strategic CIO. But whatever you call it, the transformation is inevitable.


Why? Because the CIO is uniquely positioned to understand the full business, including all its moving parts, from an enterprise-wide perspective. Along with the CEO and CFO, most CIOs interact with executives and managers in each line of business and functional unit, be it finance or supply chain or customer service. CIOs enjoy a panoramic view that spans a corporation, and if a business isn’t taking advantage of a CIO’s reach and vision, it could be wasting a wealth of opportunities and insights.  


World-Class CIOs Deliver the Best of Both Worlds


A high-impact CIO is distinguished by an ability to both achieve operational excellence and contribute materially to business strategy and execution. It can be a fine line. For instance, a CIO may have excelled at aligning IT and business, but remains an order-taker — even if he or she may privately gripe about business tactics or strategy.


Today’s most innovative and successful CIOs have taken the lead to contribute their ideas on strategic planning, supported by their expertise in the technologies and business processes can make or break enterprise performance. 

Harrah’s Entertainment CIO Tim Stanley (InformationWeek’s 2007 CIO of the Year) is an excellent example of an IT leader who has proactively influenced business strategy and performance with customer data management systems that contribute substantially to bottom-line growth for the Las Vegas-based gaming enterprise.

Meanwhile, some forward-looking companies are tasking CIOs with greater business responsibilities. Northrop Grumman, for example, asked its CIO to be more “strategic” and “transformational” and look for new ways that IT could help drive revenue. One result: A $500 million contract to supply wireless services to New York City municipal agencies.[2]

[1] Gartner, “Gartner EXP Worldwide Survey of 1,500 CIOs Shows 85 Percent of CIOs Except ‘Significant Change’ Over Next Three Years,” news release, January 23, 2008.

[2] The Wall Street Journal, “CIO Jobs Morph from Tech Support into Strategy,” February 20, 2007.

For CIOs, it’s both a challenge and an opportunity. Not all CIOs have the skills and desire to play at a higher level.  There are no-brainer advantages to taking the initiative towards becoming the “chief impact officer” in strategic planning and business execution. You can better control the agenda and manage expectations, and build your reputation and career prospects. If you want to stake your claim on business turf, here are five key things to keep in mind.


1. Think big, but cover your, um … app.


To win big, the best CIOs think big. They map out and iterate on a comprehensive plan that accounts for all aspects of what it means to be a high-impact CIO. A top priority is to first “cover your app” by ensuring that the IT house is in order with demonstrable core competencies in operational stability and application and service portfolio management.


From there, you will have positioned yourself to open a collaborative dialogue with business leaders and start talking about such high-impact deliverables as single, reusable IT solutions that address problems common across multiple business units. 


Your job is complicated, but do not make the mistake of telling everybody.  They don’t care.  While it is absolute that you must have a comprehensive plan that covers all the bases, it is also imperative that you communicate simply and in the language of your customers.


2. Get the lieutenants on board.


Don’t go it alone. Having business impact is not your job alone.  It is the job of the entire senior IT management team and key customer facing IT staff.  A vital and underappreciated aspect of making the transition to chief impact officer is to get your senior IT lieutenants decisively aligned with you.


It’s important to recognize that most mid-level and even senior IT personnel pay little attention to the business side (AMR Research found “company knowledge” and “industry knowledge” ranked least important among 21 IT skills in a recent study of 405 IT buyers).[1] The best CIOs use strong leadership skills to make it an IT team effort. Gather insights from your IT staff on hot-button issues that can grab the attention of business managers. Engineer a strategic communications plan that tasks IT managers with specific assignments. Use the same sort of IT best practices for monitoring and measurement of this business communications plan to gauge success and adapt as needed. 

[1] AMR Research, “The IT Management Spending Report, 2007-2008,” January 2008.

3. Seed business role for IT throughout the organization.


Getting your senior IT managers on board gives you a powerful catalyst to evangelize a greater business role for IT across all levels of an organization — at both the C level as well as with their key influencers. Impact is not achieved merely by one great presentation to one key decision maker.  It is achieved by mobilizing multiple levels and places in the organization.  You’ll plant seeds throughout the mid-level enterprise that, if properly cultivated, will percolate up to the top.


Rely on tried-and-true principles of change management — success requires involvement and communication with multiple levels of an organization. Turn IT meetings with mid-level business managers into broader discussions about IT as well as the business strategy that technology underpins. These cross-pollination brainstorming sessions will both win you converts with executives and influencers, while also broadening your perspective and vision on how IT can more intimately and forcefully drive business excellence.


4. Build business skills and industry expertise.


Truly strategic CIOs cultivate a genuine and abiding interest in business operations. The better you understand various financial models of business units, the cost and revenue challenges that managers face, and competitors and industry, the more likely you are to succeed. Invest in training, conferences, or whatever it takes to build your business savvy. Demonstrate business knowledge and credibility to skeptical business counterparts. Convincing them that you offer innovative insights into improving efficiency and driving revenue will result a spot at the leadership table.


5. Recognize risks and limitations.


Transitioning into a role as chief impact officer is not without its risks. If you expand your influence, you also expand your exposure to criticism and career damage. It’s essential to weigh and manage those risks and hone the political skills necessary to survive in what can be treacherous waters. Choose your battles wisely and be sure that you’re endorsing IT solutions that truly meet your organization’s needs, rather than a hot new technology that’s generating a lot of industry buzz.


Similarly, you’ll need to understand the limitations of what your organization can or even wants to achieve. It’s not for the faint of heart, and a fair number of CIOs will choose to remain beneath the radar until if and when they’re prodded or pulled into more business-side involvement.


But in most cases, opportunities are abundant, and the rewards (satisfaction of greater impact, more funding for IT, and maybe a higher salary) can be great. You might even be playing Sunday morning golf with the board of directors. It’s all about thinking less about ERP and start thinking more about EPS.


Hank Leingang has more than 20 years of experience leading major operational and strategic changes in companies by leveraging information technology. A former CIO at Viacom and Bechtel Group, Inc., Hank is presently the president and CEO of ITM Software and a member of its board of directors. Prior to joining ITM Software, Hank was president and CEO of ThinkLift, a business and IT strategy consulting firm.