• United States



by Graham Waller

The CIO as Change Agent: Are You Prepared?

Sep 28, 20044 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

Being a change agent is the attribute of the CIO role anticipated to take on the greatest increase in importance during the next two years, according to respondents of a recent META Group CIO multiclient study. Along with IT strategy and corporate governance (two key components of CIOs’ venerable top priority – business/IT alignment), more effectively contributing to their organizations’ transformation success sits at the top of many CIO agendas.

In an era of rapid change and ruthless competition, many organizations are dramatically rethinking their strategies. Whether driven by globalization, end-to-end process optimization (for example, “order to cash”), or tighter integration of processes across the value chain (for example, the “extended” or “virtual” enterprise), the scope and complexity of requisite transformation activities are escalating. Indeed, a full 80 percent of study respondents stressed the increasing importance of improving their organizations’ transformation capability.

In response to these demands, world-class CIOs are increasingly playing more influential transformational roles. Whether leading major transformation initiatives, orchestrating enterprisewide change, or having direct accountability for business functional areas (for example, procurement, customer service, claims, e-commerce), the melding of traditional IT and business responsibilities is increasing at a more rapid pace than expected.

Fueling this development is the CIO’s truly unique position within the organization, functioning (whether CIOs like the fact or not) at the “eye of the transformation storm.” Enterprisewide visibility, as well as experience operating at the intersection point of technology, business process, and people, results in CIOs having purview to linkages, tradeoffs, opportunities, and weaknesses across the enterprise, to which others are simply blind. By effectively leveraging this position in combination with vision and leadership authenticity, world-class CIOs are able to contribute great value as change agents within a collaborative executive team.

However, with opportunity comes risk. CIOs are acutely aware of the inherent complexity associated with transformation across an enterprise, particularly dealing with the most difficult of all transformational barriers: cultural change management. In an environment complicated by continued blurring of business and IT roles, all can agree on the importance of managing their risk exposure (for example, not overstepping a prudent “permission threshold” with the business, not accepting the “bad business” of a role that comes with responsibility but not the requisite authority).

Of course, all this is dependent on the maturity of both business and the ITO. For instance, if the CEO lacks vision to drive transformation or the business executives are ill prepared to embrace the change, then it is foolish for the CIO to take an overly aggressive stance as change agent. From the IT perspective, if an ITO does not have its own house in order or if it has not otherwise earned the respect of business peers, then it is best to look inward first and fix whatever is broken.

Increasingly, CIOs are at a critical juncture in their evolution. They must decide whether to step up to this higher-value/higher-risk role as change agent or to ignore the opportunity and run the risk of the ITO becoming marginalized, battling perceptions that it is nothing more than a cost center whose sole purpose is to “keep the lights on.” Although all CIOs may not be ready to step up to a change agent role, those ignoring this trend in their evolution will do so at their peril – not to mention the risk of squandering their opportunity at the eye of the transformation storm.

Bottom Line: Although neither easy nor without risk that must be actively managed, the role of a change agent as part of a collaborative executive team can dramatically propel the CIO’s value proposition within the enterprise.