Putting the 'C' into CIO

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Is the CIO a true member of the C-suite? As technology transforms the way the power & utility (P&U) sector does business, the time has come for the CIO to take a more strategic, value-adding role. Benoit Laclau reports.

Not yet at the top table

We surveyed more than 300 senior IT professionals across sectors to better understand their strengths and qualities and gain insight into the skills they need to develop.

While many CIOs are satisfied in their role (though P&U CIOs are apparently the least content), many appear to be C-level in title only. Fewer than one in five holds a seat at the top table, with P&U CIOs having even less contact with the board than those in other sectors.

Today, IT’s influence stretches into nearly every facet of the P&U business — generation, transmission, distribution and Customer Relationship Management. However, the inability of CIOs to truly enter the C-suite could be limiting their potential to bring real change to the business.

From laptops to leadership

As the P&U sector relies more and more on IT, CIOs must be able to stand up and fight for their beliefs about the direction that the business needs to take.

At Électricité de France (EDF), for example, Group CIO Laurent Ferrari is responsible for selling the value of the company’s €2b annual IT budget to the company’s board and executive management committee, many of whom would prefer to see that figure shrink.

“They need to understand what IT means for their business, including what the main priorities are and what IT is about. But they have little time to hear your arguments,” he says. For CIOs who fail to lead, such discussions quickly become focused on IT’s budgets, rather than its contribution.

CIOs need to develop better communication and leadership skills, and the ability to discuss technology issues in terms of the business value they bring — such as costs saved, revenues gained and customer satisfaction achieved — rather than in terms of uptime, gigahertz and terabytes.

Another major skill set that emerges from this study is the need for CIOs of P&U companies to manage complex situations — in particular, major IT transformation projects. This requires CIOs to assume responsibility for tough projects (not just IT projects) that can develop and highlight their analytical approach and organizational skills.

Connect to the network

The transition to the modern P&U CIO role requires a far greater emphasis on relationship building with a wider range of stakeholders within and outside the business.

Nearly three-quarters of CIOs surveyed agree that developing networking skills is highly important.

Roman Dudzik, CIO of Polish utility Energa, talks of “making a bridge” with the rest of the business, which in turn helps IT professionals get invited to the meetings from which they were previously excluded. But this is “not something you can do from one day to another. You need to build these relationships over time,” he adds.

CIOs must also reach out to others in the sector, including:

  • The regulatory community
  • Analysts
  • Customers
  • Media

Ferrari says a personal network of external contacts he has built up over time has been invaluable in giving him an edge in his role. “The CIO has to be part of a lot of different networks,” he notes.

The right support

CEOs are key to developing the careers of their CIOs. “Without the CEO’s strong commitment and support, you will not manage to deliver on the whole change and transformation aspect of your role,” says Roman Dudzik.

Again, discussions with the CEO and other executive managers will require the CIO to go beyond budgets and successfully promote IT’s value and role within the business.

Another important internal relationship is that of the CIO’s key delegate or protégé, who is able to run the majority of the operational side of IT. Backup from this person — usually the IT Operations Director — allows CIOs to extract themselves from day-to-day firefighting.

They can then concentrate on managing stakeholders, seizing opportunities to add value and looking at what IT must do to be fit for purpose in five years’ time.

Time to change

CIOs in P&U companies have often been in their role longer than those in other sectors and have built up many years of experience and knowledge. Moving out of their comfort zone to take a more strategic role will not be easy.

But the time has come for CIOs to have someone else pay attention to the underlying technologies they love and focus far more on developing their abilities as leaders and influencers. Few CIOs in the P&U sector are automatically entrusted with the executive management team’s backing and support. They will have to fight for it.

Read our report The DNA of the CIO.