CIO priorities should be business focused not technical

business focusIn the space of a few days recently CIOs were presented with two headlines about their priorities for 2012. The first proclaimed that CIOs view infrastructure as their highest priority in the year whilst three days later application management was being declared as our top priority. And I read both of these headlines on the same website – one of the leading sites for IT professionals.

So are CIOs a confused bunch? Or are we really faced with a broad set of priorities covering pretty much all aspects of technology? Or perhaps it is the IT media that are confused?

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that both headlines were based on surveys and, as we all know, most surveys are sponsored by organisations who need to sell something and who therefore need the ‘right answer’. All you need is some carefully crafted questions covering a narrow range of subjects and hey presto you have the data you need to write the story you wanted to write in the first place!

Thankfully CIOs do not rely on these surveys to set their real priorities, or at least they shouldn’t. Annual priorities for the IT department have to be set within the context of the overall business and technology strategies. And if the process for setting, monitoring and refining strategy is working well then the CIO’s annual priorities will drop out of this process with little additional work required.

It’s also worth noting that the CIO’s priorities should be expressed in terms of the business capabilities that technology will enable and not the specific solutions that will be used. Understandably vendors want to use language in their survey headlines that will promote their products (e.g. application performance). Hence we frequently read about technical priorities but that is not the language the CIO should be using within their organisations. Presumably any CIO that cites application performance management as a priority to a vendor has improving customer experience or something similar as their real priority.

And that’s a key part of the CIO role: identifying how technology can enable the capabilities that will be required to realise the business strategy and then translating this into technical solutions. CIOs that can do this successfully will thrive in the modern business.

So we should read headlines about CIOs’ priorities with a huge pinch of salt. We should also look beyond the technical headlines of surveys to understand what business capabilities can be enabled by the technical solutions being promoted. And CIOs should always make sure they focus on these capabilities when communicating their priorities internally.

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