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Arun O Gupta
Customer Care Associate & Group Chief Technology Officer
Shoppers Stop Limited

Is the CIO going through an identity crisis ?

No IT event is ever complete without discussing the evolving or changing role of the CIO. This has almost become a flogging horse; surprisingly the people engaged in discussions are consultants, academicians, vendors and also the CIOs. All of them have aired their views and opinions, all of which indicate that the CIO role is changing and the incumbent should not be a CIO, but move laterally within the enterprise. Not that other CXOs are discussing how to become CIOs !

The role of the CIO has come into existence for just about a decade now and most of the IT leaders worked hard to get to this position. The transition from EDP Manager to CIO has indeed been a dramatic change and revolution for many individuals as well as organizations. Moving from a support tag to a business enabler and now with stake on the board table, the CIO has indeed proved it beyond any doubt that s/he is a leader in her/his own right contributing in many cases a wider perspective than other CXOs with visibility and insights from the entire enterprise.

Is it that the IT leaders of today are not performing their role adequately or they are dissatisfied with the laurels bestowed upon them ? The CIO is expected to be in touch with almost every trend in technology including but not limited to hardware, networking, software applications, tools and devices, telephony and mobility, and along with all this, the business too. In business, they are expected to understand the products and services, sales and marketing, production and back office, finance and accounting, legal and administration, processes and measurement, dashboards and analytics, not to discount people management and negotiation skills. Are we somewhere expecting the CIOs to be a compendium of all the superhuman heroes rolled up into one ? I have yet to come across such expectations from any other CXO in the company, including the CEO.

So what is causing this ? It would appear that the CIOs are to a great extent fuelling this debate and my hypothesis is that having moved rapidly into a role of prominence, they now want more even though there may be no more to have in many cases. The success through the journey has created the taste of blood with no easing of the adrenalin rush. With the current level of expectations and performance, the possibility of a burnout is higher than any other outcome. Some may be able to move mountains or climb the peaks of the Himalayas, but these are and will continue to be exceptions.

If a CIO is asked the question "Are you satisfied with your current role ?", the answer would surprise many. So what's the predicament in being a good CIO ? Does it spell the proverbial end of the road for the IT leader ? It's a question that cries for an answer and the CIO is expected to find the answer without consulting the wise men in the mountains. Everyone has some advice on what next thereby demeaning the role to being lower in ranking to other CXOs.

I believe that the CIO should credibly communicate the contributions towards the successful and smooth functioning of the organization. The scorecard should mention the improvements made possible with the help of IT, new customer segments served enabled by analytics, additional revenue generated through new capabilities or services, or earnings realized with efficiencies that were made possible.

So stop debating the role of the CIO and move on to consolidate the position of strength with pride that is unique to the role. Debates and views will continue to distract the IT leader towards perceivably greener pastures. Lateral movement is finally a matter of personal choice.

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