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Failure is an option: 3 reasons why CIOs don’t think strategically

Question : Sharing my recent reply to a question on Quora : “CIOs are hired to work on strategic capabilities, but in reality most CIOs spend most of the time on operational issues. How do you balance between strategy and operational issues?”

My Response : Having worked with 7 CIOs of Global Multibillion-dollar companies, Let me share 3 reasons why only few CIOs tend to be strategic in their outlook.

  1. Industry : CIOs of companies which operate in industries, such as Construction & Mining, Treat IT is pure back office function. Why ? because IT in such companies does not touch end customer of business, Thus business leaders do not find a need to engage IT in strategic decisions. Biggest KPI which CIO has in such companies is to reduce IT cost.
  2. Company : While the industry might not be supporting CIO to become strategic, However if the company for CIO works for, is among top 3 players in it’s identified market, Then business leaders are likely to request IT to become strategic by driving innovation and productivity improvements. This is where role of Digital Transformation comes in and a CIO is expected to wear CEO hat and drive revenue growth.
  3. Leadership : Many CIOs come from IT Infrastructure or IT Applications background. The years of experience which made them CIO was all about planning, building and operating information systems. While many CIOs think they are strategic by talking about Application functionality or Infrastructure availability. However, business leaders do not find systems discussions strategic, as CIOs do not directly address business challenges in revenue growth.

So how can a CIOs reduce operational IT work ?

There are 2 approaches i can suggest

  1. CIOs should appoint someone to manage IT operations, this can spare CIOs bandwidth for innovation & strategic initiatives.
  2. CIOs can look to reduce the volume of Operational IT work by developing and communicating, IT standards, ways of working, rules, policies and procedures.

Do CIOs really want to become strategic ??

Any CIO aspiring for strategic role need to come out of his comfort zone and challenge business, on how business can be done better. This requires mindset shift and there are risks in challenging business leaders. While managing IT operations involves talking to vendors, IT staff and Occasionally few business users, all of which CIOs are very comfortable talking with. CIOs who are nearing retirement or are risk averse love to play along business leaders without seeking a balance. They keep doing what they are good at “Running Operations- Strategically”


I am IT Productivity Coach & Published Author who helps companies reduce IT cost and service provider increase revenue by unlocking previously missed opportunities in IT spend optimization.

Check on Amazon my book on 101 ideas to reduce IT cost www.ITProductivityCoach.com.

Contact Abhinav on  to discuss smart ways to become a strategic CIO

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