Tomorrow’s CIO and the Implications for SMBs

“Tomorrow’s CIO” is the subject of an opinion piece on sandhill.com. The author, Ashwin Rangan of MarketShare Partners, contrasts the characteristics of Tomorrow’s CIO and Yesterday’s CIO. He identifies three key areas of difference:

  1. Goal orientation toward business values and objectives (read, measurable return on investment) instead of a check-the-box approach that leads to a company implementing one of each key software solution.
  2. Business background, which means a deep understanding of the business operation, drivers and strategic direction instead of the tech savvy CIO with a technology mindset.
  3. Open-mindedness toward innovative solutions instead of conservatives that channel technology investments only into the most sound, and often most expensive, enterprise software solutions.

I agree with Rangan, especially in the context of new technology approaches such as ciocloud computing, Software As a Service (SAAS), open source and Web application hybrids (aka mash-ups). Each of these four innovations (The Big Four) provide opportunities to your business. However, without the leadership of a technology innovator, your business is unlikely to embark down these paths, much less embrace them as ways to drive business value – reducing costs, expanding market share, entering new markets and building lasting relationships with customers.

Each of these innovations is or will be disruptive to your business, much like the Internet itself. However unlike the Internet, which was relative easy to understand and to envision its role in the future of your business, The Big Four are more arcane conceptually, more complicated technically and more difficult to envision. Consequently, businesses with the new brand of technology leadership are pursuing these approaches, whereas those that don’t are not.

Implications for Small and Midmarket Businesses (SMBs)

For many years, I’ve maintained that SMBs were disadvantaged in the area of using technology to support business strategy. Leveraging technology for the business is neither inexpensive nor without risk. In addition, the business strategies of SMBs are more focused and conservative by nature. This does not lend itself to diving head first into The Big Four.

Regardless, business leaders should view cloud computing, SAAS, open source, and mash-ups as the certain future and not the “latest buzzwords”. Much like the Internet, businesses will face increasing pressure from competitors using these technologies against them.

This leaves three choices and only two are good ones:

1. Invest in a business technology leader (regardless of what you call them: CIO, CTO, IT Director) with the characteristics above who can work as a part of your management team to influence business strategy and create real business value with technology.

2. Identify a business technology services partner that can help your management team navigate the technology alternatives with your business goalsin mind.

3. Do nothing and pay more later in the form of market share and profitability.

In light of current economic challenges, I hope that your business has the ability to pursue one of the first two.

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