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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Salesman

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DQW Bureau
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ARE CIOs business leaders? Most say yes. A Gartner report says, er, well,

most CEOs see their CIOs as "ops" leaders, really, not business

leaders.

But here's another side to the story of "business leadership".

The CIO as business and marketing manager. Profit center head. Salesman.

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No, I'm not talking about nebulous things like internal customers and

charge-back and transfer pricing and divisional P&L sheets.

Take a look at TCS, Wipro Technologies, DCM Data Systems, and a host of other

large tech entities who share a similar history. They were born as the IS or

tech departments of business houses. They were joined by other large business

houses: Mahindras, Birlas, Godrej & Boyce, Larsen & Toubro, Blue Star,

JK Technosoft, Herosoft...

And a host of others have walked that path: from the very prominent i-Flex,

which transformed from Citibank division to India's most successful product

company, to NSE-IT and ICICI Infotech and Canbank and ITC Infotech.

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I'm told by the CIO of a public-sector equipment manufacturer that he now

drives business worth several hundred crore. His department offers to other

public sector companies the services that it became a specialist in while

supporting the company itself. And he describes the personal transition: from

being a customer, listening to vendor pitches and entreaties, the CIO is now

servicing other real customers who have real choices in a competitive

environment. And he has stiff revenue targets.

Here's the same change seen another way. If the CEO view of the CIO ranges

from "ops" guy to (less charitably) a cost center and bottomless pit,

think of the same CIO suddenly bringing in revenue. Plus he runs the company's

tech backbone. Now in which of these two roles do you think the CIO commands

more power?

  • Plain old CIO of ABC Ltd, who gobbled up Rs 3 crore last year and is

    demanding six this year, and says RoI is difficult to measure, or
  • Business unit head of ABC-IT (or even CEO of ABC-IT Ltd) who will spend Rs

    5 crore but will bring in Rs 25 crore.

The transition can go like this: from IS department (cost

center), to profit center model with charge-backs, to separate company, to new

name, to marketing and selling and bringing in business.

I'm not knocking the plain old CIO. He remains the dominant

life form on the IS planet. He's the life-blood and driver and sine qua non of

enterprise IT. But there's a different animal out there: the IS department

that brings in revenue. And with at last a hundred examples of these, that may

be too compelling a mode for many enterprises to pass by in the years ahead.

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