Sustainable CIO leadership in China

Academic Publishing Limited
Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
Proceedings of the 7th European Conference on Management, Leadership and Governance, 2011, pp. 51 - 59
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Enterprise Chief Information Officer (CIO) leadership role is constantly evolving due to the dynamically changing business environments. Most CIO leadership research to date has been centered on firms from developed markets; but little is known outside of China of their CIO leadership practices. With China's rapidly growing global stature accompanied by its unprecedented economic growth rates, competitive firms globally are seeking to understand and incorporate the China factor in their strategy renewal process. Understanding China's CIO leadership practices becomes an important requirement for business leaders, practicing CIOs and scholars alike. This paper addresses this knowledge gap. In particular, it seeks to investigate what is the evolutionary status and expected sustainable model of CIO leadership practices of Chinese firms as they strive to become globally competitive multinationals? We use qualitative case study approach to study seven prominent CIOs from firms in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, who have all been awarded China's top 10 CIOs or equivalent over the 2005-2010 periods. The Chinese firms are a mixture of listed state-owned and joint-venture (with foreign multinational) enterprises of varying sizes all with globalization aspirations. The Hong Kong firms (listed) are already operating internationally. Each CIO was interviewed twice using semi-structured open questions. We find a hierarchical framework of three value-creation types of CIO leadership: type 1 is focused principally on managing and provisioning cost-effective and reliable information systems (IS) services to support business operations; type 2 is focused on both IS operational excellence and, particularly, business strategy formulation and business model design by leveraging IT to create the firm's competitive advantage; and type 3 (represented by all three Hong Kong CIO subjects) possesses type 2 attributes plus holding additional corporate responsibilities beyond IS such as shared services, business innovation functions. Type 2 and type 3 CIOs have particularly strong business acumen and relationships. For example, the CIO of a state-owned financial services firm is actively engaging not only the CEO but also the board directors to educate these business leaders on the unique differentiation by IT in the firm's business model. Yet, the CIO of a wholesale/retail enterprise is focused on using IT to offer not only an operationally excellent business platform, but also to create differentiated value to maximize customer service experience. All Chinese CIOs studied are cognizant of the Chinese Communist Party philosophy as they build their social capital for business success. Type 3 CIOs play active corporate leadership role beyond IS e.g. in merger and acquisition for international expansion. Both types 2 and 3 are adept to leading ambidextrously exploiting current IS and corporate capabilities and exploring or innovating possible future business capabilities through creative use of IT to maximize value creation. Type 3 in addition contributes to the firm's agility by providing the capabilities to reconfigure knowledge and process assets in response to market changes. The three-tier framework represents a possible sustainable model for the evolution of China's CIO role.
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