by Sandeep Dadlani, AVP, Retail and CPG Business Unit
I looked in disbelief at the CIO of a small fast food chain when he asked “Can you help set the menus of all my fast-food outlets and manage the menus from Bangalore?”
No, he wasn’t talking about the menus that run some weekly batch jobs on his HP servers in his datacenter…He was talking about the actual menus with combo deals with fries or fruit salad as an option. And, to manage that from Bangalore would mean at least a few menu management experts who would take sales data from all over the world, analyze them, take inputs from the company’s menu experts and then set/reset the menus.
Of course it can all be done in Bangalore…that wasn’t the fascinating fact. The most fascinating thing was that the question was coming from the CIO and not the CEO. Such an activity should have been the CEO or CFO’s priority but here was the CIO taking it up in full earnest.
CIOs have always been challenged with being part of the business strategy and using IT to enable business. Their objective has been to listen to their business partners and partner with them on their business ideas to implement them. But the Flat World CIO has a bigger mandate…My last few meetings with leading CIOs of Fortune 1000 companies have revealed that the CIO is well suited to take on another role – that of a flat-world evangelist and champion, that of an originator of business ideas and this is not just about offshoring.
Take for example, the CIO of a large consumer products company who started throwing out ideas in our first meeting on how we could become the analytics engine for his category managers. By using our brand managers in different geographies to analyze sales data and spew insightful reports we could allow his category managers to “Make Money from Information” instead of getting stuck in myriad reporting capabilities (or the lack of it) within the organization and the geography. This CIO was again not limiting himself to offshoring but he was using his experience at offshoring IT applications and basic business processes like F&A and HR. This experience was helping him in thinking globally without limitations. I can say for sure that this CIO would be a true friend of the VP of Marketing because both have the same vision.
Or for example the CIO of a large retailer who eagerly looks forward to the next downturn in the economy where most of the competitors slow down in spending on new initiatives. This CIO actually picks up the pace during a downturn in terms of taking business ideas proactively to his business partners and investing in those ideas “while the competitors are sleeping” as he says. No wonder, this retailer is one of the most successful in its league. It knows how to “Win in the turns.”
All in all, the more forward-looking CIOs, lets call them Flat World CIOs, are taking on their roles seriously as flat-world evangelists. They are best suited to this role for the following reasons:
- They have been exposed to a more global environment more than other CXOs
- In most companies, the IT department today is the most multi-cultural and multi-geographic environment
- They have first access to most of the core information that runs the company
These flat World CIOs tend to be the first to take up new business ideas that address each of the four flat world shifts. In a sense, they are assuming the defacto role of CEO without any limitations or boundaries to their thinking. It is no wonder that these CIOs are known in the industry to be the most successful.