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CIO of India: Do You Have the Mettle?

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All discussions and debates around CIO career path and growth prospects more or less come around to transitioning from a technologist to business leader, with 'CEO' mostly being the penultimate ambition of success for them. But, we took the liberty of thinking 'big', and I mean 'really big' on behalf of all our CIO friends. Here's what we decided to do - think beyond a million or even a billion dollar enterprise ambition and trade it for a set-up of over a billion people: India.

We took the first step towards building this exalted ambition or dream - whatever you prefer calling it - with one of my older blogs: 'Mr. CIO Would You Like To Take Up This Job?' The blog proposed the idea of a CIO for India and the core responsibilities such a position would entail, taking a leaf from the corporate culture. This can, in fact, mark one of the first significant steps in the direction of running the country professionally, and to bring about greater transparency and accountability in the government's operations.

Sounds challenging, yet exciting? But, there aren't too many who can, perhaps, live up to the thrill of running the IT lifeline for a country, and that too as diversified as India. Just for the sake of an example, can you imagine yourself planning, implementing and managing an ERP system equivalent for India? I can already see some of you freezing at the very idea. Well, let me warn you - it's no job for the faint hearted.

In the previous blog, Manish Bahl, Country Manager, Forrester had outlined some minimal qualifying requirements for the CIO of India: CIOs with proven leadership experience, bringing in best practices, business-IT alignment understanding, and a knack for ROI and measurable impact. Taking these bare minimum qualifiers as the starting point, we went about the task of short listing CIOs that we feel could fit the bill of leading IT for the country and could be in contention for this job. While quite a decent number of Indian CIOs qualified and made the cut, we realized that it would take only a certain breed of CIOs to survive and successfully fulfil the responsibilities expected of the role.

Let me give you an insight into the KRAs of some of the most notable government CIOs globally for a better understanding of why the CIO of India contenders has to be a really niche and exclusive club that can accommodate only the best of the best. And, we're not being prudish about it.

As per the website of New Zealand government's ICT department, Colin MacDonald, the Government CIO is expected to "provide advice on the strategic direction for government use of ICT to ministers, chief executives, senior stakeholders, central agencies and state sector agencies" while aiming for lower cost and higher quality public services. If that doesn't sound too bad, then digest this: the government has charged the GCIO with leading government ICT to provide system-wide assurance, enable integrated digital service delivery, and deliver sustainable business savings of $100 million per year by 2017.

Take a peek into the life of Steven VanRoekel, US Chief Information Officer at Executive Office of the President. He is the second person to hold the title of Federal CIO after taking over from Vivek Kundra - the first Federal CIO for U.S. - in 2011. He sits on a treasure trove of data in a country extremely paranoid about individual privacy and national security, despite the recent spilling of beans around the country's secret NSA Prism programme.

A White House statement issued at the time of Kundra's appointment gives a clear indication of what is expected of the role. This was the first time that U.S. was creating the role of a government CIO. The profile responsibilities, as per the statement, go as: "The Federal Chief Information Officer directs the policy and strategic planning of federal IT investments and is responsible for oversight of federal technology spending.  The Federal CIO establishes and oversees enterprise architecture to ensure system interoperability and information sharing and ensure information security and privacy across the federal government.  The CIO will also work closely with the CTO to advance the President's technology agenda."

Further, the portfolio includes government IT policy and procurement and not just modernization. The Federal CIO is tasked with using technology to improve performance and lowering the cost of government operations. "I have directed him to work to ensure that we are using the spirit of American innovation and the power of technology to improve performance and lower the cost of government operations. As CIO, he will play a key role in making sure our government is running in the most secure, open, and efficient way possible," came the statement from President Obama himself on Kundra's appointment. VanRoekel not only inherited a USD 80 billion IT portfolio to lead when he took over from Kundra in 2011, but also the legacy of gigantic expectations. I don't think I need to stress enough to showcase the pressure when the country's President has these expectations of you, as opposed to your company's CEO.

The prospect of creating an over-arching technology architecture for a country as diverse as India, integrating and standardizing systems and processes across disparate government departments nationally, creating transparency without compromising on national security, replicating the pace of innovation in the private sector to the government, can be quite daunting for the best of the CIOs. If that doesn't sound daunting enough try doing that in an environment of bureaucratic culture and huge fiscal deficits in the midst of looming global economic issues.

That's why, I still insist, it will take the best of the best CIOs in the country to become the CIO of India.

With the objective to scout for and showcase some of the CIOs that can make the cut, we bring to you the 'CIO of India' series, which will essentially feature blogs from some of these potential CIOs of India, sharing their vision, mission and strategy as the country's CIO, showcasing what they will bring to the table, and trying to convince you why they are an ideal candidate for the job.

Do look out for this space for the first of the blogs in this series from one of the most renowned CIOs in the corporate world. And, if you think you fit the bill, we would definitely want to hear your plans and strategy for the country's IT set-up.


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