01/03/2011 03:23 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Today's Chief Information Officer Will Be Tomorrow's Chief Executive

The Chief Information Officer ("CIO") is typically the most senior executive responsible for the information technology and computer systems that support enterprise goals. As the relationship between IT and business strategy converges, CIOs find themselves at the center of a paradigm shift. They can no longer succeed simply by making their respective organizations' IT function more smoothly. Rather, they must embrace and implement IT in order to meet short- and long-term strategic company goals that will be part and parcel of the changing new economic terrain and business landscape. Moreover, by doing so, they effectively will position themselves at the center of any corporate hierarchy, often making decisions in concert with the most senior management.


Beyond Bits & Bytes. First, CIOs must embrace and promote a tighter alignment between IT and business units by understanding new organizational models. In this respect, they must become better businesspeople, not just technical experts; they must understand best practices and business strategy, not just bits and bytes.

Beyond Cost Cutting. Second, marginal cost cutting can no longer be viewed as an appropriate metric of success for any company's IT department. CIOs must fundamentally change the way IT operates and champion technological improvements that will transform and drive business.

Position for Long-Term Competitive Advantage. CIOs must constantly think about long-term comparative advantage. In a business world that changes faster than ever before, any CIO who takes her eye off the horizon in favor of short-term gain does so to the detriment of her enterprise.

If the foregoing prescriptions seem obvious, let there be no question: They are not being implemented. In a recent survey by McKinsey & Company, 71 percent of European IT and business executives said that IT must be tightly integrated with business strategy, but only 27 percent thought this actually happened at their companies. Moreover, 81 percent of business executives believe that IT could support their units more effectively by forging better partnerships to reconceive and upgrade existing processes and systems and by innovating with new technology-supported capabilities.


McKinsey reports that in pan-European companies, for example, low-level CIOs make decisions in individual silos, thereby impeding enterprise-level success. Whatever the impediment, the results can be devastating. According to McKinsey, 74 percent of European IT and business executives surveyed believe that their companies are very or extremely susceptible to disruptions stemming from IT, yet only 48 percent believe that their companies are very or extremely well-prepared for them. Even if the gap is in fact not that wide, this perception should remind CIOs that they must boost their value to the board room or be seen as obsolete or even a hindrance to their companies.


A flexible CIO must enable top-line growth and be open to innovative technologies and new business models. The modern CIO finds herself in an age where technology has become so indispensible to business that she has the extraordinary opportunity to position herself as the centerpiece of the corporate enterprise. By using deep industry knowledge and technology to catalyze business strategy while also helping mold that very strategy itself, the CIO will become the pivotal business leader of the future.


Ben Kerschberg is a Founder and the Chief Operating Officer of Consero Group LLC. Mr. Kerschberg has a Bachelor of Arts in Foreign Affairs and German, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of Virginia and a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School, where he was as a Coker Fellow. He clerked for the Honorable Gilbert S. Merritt, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.