Mr Payback

Mr Payback

This month our CIO became surplus to requirements: time to walk the big walk fella, and thanks for coming. His job will effectively cease to exist. So how did our unfortunate CIO cope with the news? Pretty well, since he is me. About a fortnight ago I swapped vowels in my title and took over responsibility for the profitability of the company. Score one for the IT department -- it's payback time. Before all the sceptics start crowing with "Career Is Over" jokes, I should mention that while the title disappears, the role itself becomes subsumed largely under the auspices of the COO with daily operational duties farmed out to other managers. The linking of these two responsibilities, IS service delivery and profitability, is the obvious and logical end game out of the process of aligning IT and business. Interestingly, despite serving my own shameless self-interest, it was the management team of the company which insisted that IS policy remain a corporate function, rather than the function of a standalone service group. I guess that just means that they either trust me implicitly, or that they don't!The role change, and the crash course in the internal machinations of the company which I've been in engaged in since my appointment, has brought to light two interesting phenomena. Firstly, after 14 months working across all the departments I figured I had a pretty solid handle on the organisation. But breadth of knowledge can never substitute for depth of knowledge. Thus, at the end and too late, I discovered the greatest flaw in my job. Even as a company executive, as CIO I lacked the stature and the authority to delve into every corner and to search every hollow log. I suspect many CIOs face the same dilemma. It's not even a question of defined authority. It is more about the realities of the workplace, of the alliances that operate within the shadowy corners and back lots of company structures. It's all those circles within circles. The second enlightening aspect of the last few weeks is the discovery that the evolution of management processes mimics quite precisely the development of information systems, or more likely vice versa.

There isn't so much of a correlation, as a causal link between the existence of well-defined management styles working off clear and symmetrical lines of communications and well described information structures to support them. And of course, unfortunately, the reverse is also true. Everything about our industry and about our careers is changing. IS is increasingly assimilated into business planning, and more non-IS trained professionals are taking up responsibility for technology groups. Information executives armed with a deep business knowledge and an appreciation of the value of information structure can only be good for IS, business and the bottom line. Here's hoping anyway.

Andrew Birmingham is the chief operating officer of IDG Communications. He can be reached at

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