Elevating your stature to competitive differentiator status doesn't have to be an exercise in the black arts. CIO research demystifies what it take to become a competitive differentiator. 

For many CIOs, being seen as a competitive differentiator by their business is as hard to achieve as it is to understand. For these CIOs, becoming a competitive differentiator seems like a black art.

It's time to dispel that myth. According to CIO research, there are clear differences between CIOs who are considered competitive differentiators by their businesses and those considered cost centers. You make to make the jump from the latter to the former? Read on.

They Work in Organizations of Different Sizes.  According to CIO research, CIOs considered cost centers by their businesses tend to work in companies in two size ranges: Rs 2,000 to Rs 9,999 crore, and Rs 500 to Rs 1,999 crore.

Competitive differentiator CIOs, on the other hand, tend to work for companies with over Rs 10,000 crore in revenues.

Perhaps, it's only natural then, that the latter also work in organizations with larger staff counts. The majority of competitive differentiator CIOs work for enterprises with 10,000 to 50,000 employees. The majority of cost center CIOs work for enterprises with 1,000 to 2,500 staffers.

Their Businesses Have Different Focuses.  The focus area of the businesses of cost center CIOs and competitive differentiators also differ. The businesses of cost center CIOs tend to focus on creating operational impact, that is, increasing the efficiency of operations, and using resources more optimally.

On the other hand, CIOs who are seen as competitive differentiators tend to work for businesses that focus on creating customer impact, that is, creating more choices of products and services, lowering cost for customers, and ensuring more efficient customer transactions.

They Spend Time Differently.  What's the number one thing that cost center CIOs spent their time on in 2013? If you thought managing IT crises, you're right. Whereas, CIOs seen as competitive differentiators spent the majority of their time interacting with IT vendors and service providers.

In the next year, competitive differentiator CIOs want to spend most of their time interacting with their company's CXOs and business executives. Most cost center CIOs, on the other hand, plan to spend much of 2014 in security management and planning.

Not surprisingly then, the most important IT management initiative cost center CIOs plan for the next nine months is "marketing the IT department so that the business has a better understanding of IT's capabilities and processes."

For competitive differentiator CIOs, much of the next nine months will be spent improving business processes such as supply chain management or HR management.

They Have Different Challenges.  For the majority of Indian CIOs who are considered competitive differentiators by their businesses, the number one challenge is inadequate in-house skillsets (in areas like cloud computing, virtualization, mobility, business intelligence and analytics and security).

Those are not the same challenges faced by the majority of Indian CIOs who are considered costs centers by their businesses. Their top challenges (they are tied) are: Deploying too many technologies and applications; and delayed decisions from their businesses.

Their Cloud Outlook Differs.  Maybe a bit obviously, CIOs seen as competitive differentiators tend to work in enterprises that have high levels of virtualization. Forty percent of competitive differentiator CIOs say the level of virtualization within their organizations is over 50 percent. In comparison, only half (26 percent) of cost center CIOs can say the same.

The majority--26 percent--of cost center CIOs also believe that cloud computing, the public flavor, is today's most over-hyped technology. Most competitive differentiator CIOs--32 percent--say big data is.

More CIOs who are considered competitive differentiators use--or plan to use--hybrid cloud models. Just under 65 percent of Indian CIOs who are seen as competitive differentiators use--or plan to use--hybrid cloud models--compared to 50 percent of cost center CIOs.

What they looking to gain by moving to a hybrid cloud also differs. The majority of competitive differentiators--54 percent--believe the hybrid cloud will offer their companies better security. Cost center CIOs, on the other hand, see the hybrid cloud as a way to do two things: Cut costs, and lower downtime.

When comparing public cloud service providers with traditional outsourcers and third-party suppliers, cost center CIO say that the risk are greater with cloud providers. Those in the competitive differentiators camp believe the risk are about the same.

So what's the top concern of cost center CIOs with the public cloud? A full 50 percent say it's the unauthorized access to, or a leak of their customers' information. In comparison, 80 percent of competitive differentiator CIOs say vendor lock-in is their largest concern.

Scarily though, the majority of cost center CIOs--50 percent--aren't aware of their company's legal obligation where cloud computing is concerned. In comparison, 53 percent of competitive differentiator CIOs say they are aware.

Their Datacenter Challenges Differ.  The single biggest datacenter pain point for cost center CIOs is the fact that single points of failure increase the level of risk. For CIOs seen as competitive differentiators, it's single-window infrastructure and application management.

The top factor leading to datacenter complexity, says competitive differentiator CIOs, is the increasing number of business-critical applications, whereas for cost center CIOs it's the growth of data volumes.

Their Business Intelligence Outlook Differs.  CIOs were asked to rate the level of interest within their organizations in leading-edge BI technologies (1 is "not interested" and 5 is "extremely interested").

The majority of CIOs seen as competitive differentiators, worked in companies that scored advanced analytics (predictive/statistical analysis, etc.) a full 5, or extremely interested. The majority of CIOs seen as cost centers worked in companies that scored it 4.

Competitive differentiator CIOs scored organizational interest in advanced data visualization capabilities a 4, while their cost center peers gave it a 1.

Most competitive differentiator CIOs say they expect to complete data visualization projects this fiscal--in comparison most cost center CIOs say data visualization isn't on their technology roadmap.

In-memory BI/analytics also got a 4 from competitive differentiator CIOs. It got a 1 from cost center CIOs.

Embedded BI was ranked 4 by competitive differentiator CIOs. It was ranked 1 by cost center CIOs

The same applies to social media technologies.

Finally, the majority of cost center CIOs--57 percent--say they are not planning to build applications for a private enterprise app store. Whereas a majority of competitive differentiator CIOs--48 percent--say they do.