Level Grinding: How to Become More Strategic as CIO

The amount of good CIOs stand to bring to their organizations is staggering. But for the most part, according to a study by McKinsey & Company, not enough businesses are thrilled with the abilities of their IT leaders yet. The study finds a persistent need for CIOs to close the gap between IT and business concerns. It seems CIOs still have a wealth of untapped potential.

The Uh-Oh Indicator

The majority of executives are disappointed with IT leadership, and their confidence is fading. On most metrics, over 10% of execs rated their chief of IT as “Not at all effective,” whereas only the “Managing IT infrastructure” category received a near unanimous thumbs-up with 10% top approval rating for keeping the lights on. This is a bad sign, since most business execs continue to watch IT infiltrate every aspect of the enterprise. While IT leaders, who mostly anticipate shrinking budgets, remain apparently concerned with cost-cutting, business chiefs say they need IT to focus on strategic decisions.

Where CIOs Go, IT Follows

What about CIOs who are actively involved in business strategy? The study finds high ratings for IT in this category. Both IT and business leaders acknowledge this trend:

The differences are especially stark regarding IT’s ability to manage its organizational health, according to IT executives, and to partner with the business to develop new capabilities, according to business respondents… At companies with the most involved CIOs, executives are also much likelier than others to say IT facilitates business activities, including new-market entry and the creation of new products.

Talent Tribulations

Both parties tend to recognize the need for CIOs to provide a more active strategic business role. Business execs seem to desire more high-quality IT talent while admitting that it’s hard to come by. IT leaders point to a lack of effective hiring and talent acquisition mechanisms, as frustration mounts around the absence of quality employees. If there is no silver bullet to achieve fast, perfect strategic alignment, then CIOs can still stick to a tried and true method–dedication to steady, incremental improvement over time.

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