Being Bold and Agile: How the CIO Can Help Beat the Downturn—Part II

By Ralf Dreischmeier and Wolfgang Thiel

The first paper in this series, which focused on the implications of the economic downturn for IT, outlined a framework to help chief information officers and IT departments develop an action plan—including a “Plan B,” or actions to be taken in the event that conditions have reached crisis levels.11 Notes: 1 See Demonstrating Leadership: How the Chief Information Officer Can Help Beat the Downturn, BCG White Paper, November 2008. Since then, we have had many discussions with CIOs, run workshops with a number of IT leadership teams, and worked closely with several clients on the development of IT action plans. In this second paper, we take a look at what CIOs are actually doing in response to the downturn. We also highlight several case studies and point to other actions that CIOs might want to consider.

Clearly, there is a lot of doom and gloom in the economy—and for good reason. As The Boston Consulting Group has written elsewhere, the “good old days” are gone and businesses have been and will continue to be challenged in many fundamental ways.2 Notes: 2 For a comprehensive discussion of the economic downturn, see BCG’s Collateral Damage series.

But the downturn has a silver lining. Many companies will be presented with a rare opportunity to embark on truly transformational change—whether it be a unique M&A opportunity or the launch of a new, technology-enabled (or in some cases even technology-driven) business model. This will be change that would not have been possible in more comfortable times. And IT executives can and should play a critical role in helping these companies take advantage of such opportunities.

To be effective in this role, though, CIOs will have to act boldly and with agility—characteristics generally not associated with IT. CIOs will also need to be able to think in terms of scenarios and become comfortable with ambiguity.

Obviously, this will not be easy. But for those CIOs who can surmount the challenges and seize the reins, the payoff for their companies, during both the downturn and the eventual upturn, can be substantial.

In short, now is the time for the CIO to act—and to lead. As one client put it, “A crisis is too good an opportunity to waste.”


The authors would like to thank Gary Callahan, Angela DiBattista, Gerry Hill, and Janice Willett for their editorial and production assistance in the preparation of this paper.

Being Bold and Agile: How the CIO Can Help Beat the Downturn—Part II