Subscribe to CIO Magazine »

How the CIO came to be: The history of chief information officers

Two industry veterans take a trip down memory lane
How the CIO came to be: The history of chief information officers

John Roberts, research vice-president at Gartner’s CIO and executive leadership research team, says during the early 1980s organisations recognised “IT people were not just providing calculator systems but really delivering information.” This was despite the fact that enterprises were still generally building bespoke applications.

He recalls working in the distribution department of Mobil Oil Australia in 1980 using customised code to build an order taking and truck delivery optimisation system.

“I remember one of our great concerns moving from a system where customers would ring up their individual depot and place an order to an Australia-wide system, was [whether] the 1800 numbers would work.” Roberts went on to become general manager of information systems at the company.

The mainframe is dead; long live the CIO

Gartner’s Roberts recalls newspaper headlines from the mid-1990s stating that mainframe computing was dead, giving way to a new breed of open systems and integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications.

“It was probably around that timeframe when the CIO was no longer delivering [technology] to individual managers [but] had a broader information delivery responsibility across the organisation.”

“I think that once you have an enterprise-grade application, then it’s no longer the IT manager delivering to the requests of individual line managers, for example, a purchasing manager saying built me a purchasing or order taking system or whatever it might be,” Roberts says.

“The CIO no longer had an individual brief but rather started to operate as a member of the C-level suite because enterprise information was clearly critical right across the organisation.”

Philipson believes that although the CIO role has become more common since the mid-1990s, there is still a “real mishmash” of job titles, depending on the size and type of organisation.

In fact, he believes that often there is no real distinction between the CIO, IT manager and MIS manager.

“There’s always one person in an organisation who is the senior IT guy and their role is always reasonably similar,” he says. How they differ is more a product of the size of the company. Any company large enough to have an IT department by definition has to have an IT manager. "The title doesn’t make that big a difference to what their role is,” he says.

Philipson continues: “You get guys working for 30-man organisations who run a dozen PCs who are called CIOs. [There’s a] misconception that if you are a CIO and you are not an IT manager or MIS manager, you somehow have a more senior or more strategic role.

“That shouldn’t be the case, but it sometimes is; in a large organisation you might have a CIO and half a dozen IT managers under you. There is no point at which you suddenly morph from being an MIS manager to a CIO.”

He agrees that a CIO should be driving business strategy because they are at board level, they are a C-level executive. But in practice, that didn’t happen, he says.

“Very few senior IT managers ever got beyond being IT managers and that’s still the case now,” he says. “With very few exceptions, senior management of an organisation always regarded the senior IT guy, whether he was called CIO or not, as [the IT guy].

He recalls conversations with CIOs in the mid-'90s where they felt they weren’t getting the credit they deserved.

“Very few organisations had true CIOs in the way that they were true board members and part of the senior management team.”

In most cases, this is still the situation today.

Next week in the second and final part of this series, we will examine the modern CIO and how the role is expected to evolve in the future, particularly with the increasing popularity of utility and cloud-based computing models.

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

More about: Gartner, MIS, Yankee Group
References show all


Tracy Houston


A great resource for director candidates is an ebook: Becoming a Public Company Director (Amazon $9.99).

eBook Information:

Comments are now closed.
Related Coverage
Related Whitepapers
Latest Stories
Community Comments
Tags: Yankee Group, Graeme Philipson, electronic data processing manager, Gartner Group, automatic data processing manager, John Roberts
Latest Blog Posts
  • Journey to the Future-State framework
    Defining the future role and cataloguing the competencies that would take CIOs there was only the first step. In 2009 Council members pushed for more – they wanted to help the IT profession make the journey from Functional Head (where IT is inevitably viewed as a cost centre) to a Business Strategist (where IT is externally focused and viewed as an organisational ‘game changer’). Although a single prescription for advancing the role is impossible because CIOs circumstances are all different, members wanted a general roadmap and guidelines.
    Learn more »
  • Omni-Channel Customer Service Demands the Intelligent Contact Centre
    In response to changing customer trends in an increasingly mobile and digital world, the contact centre must also evolve from its traditional focus on voice- and email-based customer service into the intelligent contact centre. This whitepaper details the key qualities needed to produce and maintain an omni-channel, context-aware customer engagement optimization platform.
    Learn more »
  • 4 Secrets to Meaningful Security Discussions with the Board of Directors
    Corporate boards are more interested in security than ever before. Here’s how to engage them in a strategic dialogue about a topic with bottom-line implications.
    Learn more »
All whitepapers
rhs_login_lockGet exclusive access to Invitation only events CIO, reports & analysis.
Latest Jobs
Salary Calculator

Supplied by

View the full Peoplebank ICT Salary & Employment Index

Recent comments