"What do you want?" Surely this must be life's ultimate question. Given the inability of many people to answer it, this could have serious consequences if these people are in a position of authority.
A headhunter friend of mine has confessed that his clients, usually CEOs, find it difficult to describe the CIO or IT director they would like to recruit. They think they know what they want but, on probing, they don't. Much is left to my friend's knowledge of the industry and the candidates. How does he resolve this? He puts candidates in front of them who meet the specification and more. The CEO then sharpens his image of the ideal candidate as the process continues.
This is a fascinating insight because, despite the high churn of IT directors, most CEOs will go through this process only every five years or so. How do they know what they want? How would they know what they think they need is not dangerously outmoded? How would they realise if they are failing to lead in this area? Perhaps they are even hindering their IT executives from doing their jobs properly.
At Impact, the CIOs' network, we asked CEOs how they saw the future of their business over five to 10 years, and the information we elicited goes some way towards answering some of these questions. First, they have to live with constant, rates of change. Dealing with this change, whether it is in markets, technology or internal operations, requires a culture of agility and flexibility across the enterprise.
Even more important, CEOs need to know when this agility has to come into play. This means being able to translate signals and identify their implications from the mass of information out there. Active monitoring of worldwide technical best practice is becoming more demanding and more important. Successful translation also requires complete knowledge of the internal workings of the business.
Their third major need is to have growing confidence in the use and integration of information and technology in their businesses. Competence and comfort with information and its associated technical disciplines will become integral to the personal skill base of the modern executive. This can be seen either as a threat or an opportunity to the modern CIO.
Two key roles of today's CIO, therefore, have to be change leadership and the education of the business executive. These are critical but transitory as business executives gear themselves up for the future. CIOs may be a catalyst for change today but will not be needed for that role in the future. Instead, the CIO's role will revert to technology policy-making, delivery and systems strategy. These functions point to the emergence of a vital new role that could be called "technology translator".
"What do you want?" remains the question that any CEO should ask themselves about the IS function. Any answers should be tested against the internal value chain by further questions, such as, "what will that do for you?", "why is that important?". Using this method, a requirement for the IT director based on agility, translation and confidence is reached and the CEO's path to the future can be described.
And, if you really want to know, you can do the same.
Brinley Platts is the founder executive and business development manager of the IMPACT Programme, a leading network for CIOs.
The Impact Programme CEO research report, Business and CIO Futures, is available by email request to: firstname.lastname@example.org.