IT power grab: Should you be a Machiavellian manager?

Ready to toss aside that meek service mentality and step up your game? Several savvy CIOs explain how to grasp the reins of IT power.

Two recent works from leading analyst firms throw down the gauntlet to CIOs: Once IT leaders fully embrace the power they hold in the enterprise, they can stop taking orders and start giving advice.

Gartner's contribution is an e-book from analyst Tina Nunno, The Wolf in CIO's Clothing: A Machiavellian Strategy for Successful IT Leadership, summarized in this Gartner release.

Forrester's contribution is a report from research director Khalid Kark and researcher Andrew Smith, The Disruptive CIO: CIOs Must Master Business Agility, An Offensive Posture And Customer Obsession.

These analysts have a common thread to their advice: Years of striving for IT/business alignment have resulted in a service provider mentality within IT, one that casts the business as the customer who's always right. These pundits say this strategy is destined to fail, and exhort CIOs to grasp the reins of leadership instead.

The question is how? Niccolò Machiavelli, the 15th century politician and writer, endorsed manipulation and political intrigue to gain advantage -- tactics deemed counter-productive by the CIOs interviewed for this story. Nevertheless, those same IT leaders embrace the idea of grasping power and wielding it -- and even of being disruptive when the situation calls for it. Consider this the CIO's guide to the new rules of power.

What the analysts advise

Nunno maintains that CIOs need some new approaches. "People only share power with those they view as having equal power and status. But when IT is viewed as a service provider, it has a lower level of power and status," she says. "I'd love to believe that we're all rational enough to have a conversation and make partnerships happen, but in reality, it doesn't happen that way. You can't be a service provider and a leader at the same time."

And that's what she's advocating -- not that CIOs become duplicitous, but that they claim the power and status that is rightfully theirs in an enterprise. Technology touches everything an enterprise does; IT touches all the technology. As the experts, IT should be an equal partner in deploying it.

Vito Forte

CIOs wholeheartedly concur with this view. "We are the only scalar function in the organization," says Vito Forte, CIO at Fortescue Metals Group, a West Australia-based global mining company. "We traverse every possible area."

Most important, says Verizon Wireless CIO Shankar Arumugavelu, the CIO's key asset in working with business is the data that IT controls. "Nobody else is well-positioned to go in with empirical data and show what's happening in the business."

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