Nobody understands my job. Not the industry which sustains me and not even, to a large extent, the company that employs me. They think I'm an IT manager, but I'm not.
I can't complain because I was given ample warning that this would happen. Some of my mentors in the industry specifically counselled me against adopting the CIO title, when I was sounding them out about this opportunity. "They won't get it," one of them warned. Last week over lunch and the odd shot of Remy Martin XO I had to admit that he was half right.
CIO is absolutely the appropriate title, especially for a company like IDG that only deals in one commodity - information. My failure has been in explaining the role, or rather assuming that it was already clearly understood. For instance, I get sent truck loads of flyers asking me to attend seminars on everything from network interface cards to RAID 5 boxes. These are totally appropriate for my IS manager, but they would split my brain in two if I had to endure them.
Meanwhile at IDG, staff have decided to treat me as the online help desk resource. They routinely ring to ask why the printers don't work even though I have explained that such queries need to be directed elsewhere. (By the way, the printers usually don't work because the paper trays are empty.)My mission statement requires me to use the information assets of the company to enlarge and enrich the company. And while information systems are the bedrock underpinning the successful outcome of the mission, they're really just the start. I have six other areas of responsibility of which the most important are new business development and customer services. For example, right now my department is involved in developing customised news packages for end-user associations - the first of which we delivered last month to the Australasian Share/Guide.
I'm also developing a business plan for the electronic delivery of all our publications, something our core readership is crying out for. And with beta testing beginning at a large transportation company next week, my plate will be pretty full.
Both of these approaches to information delivery have enormous implications for the future of our traditional business model and those implications all need thorough consideration. That doesn't really leave a lot of spare time to worry about the printers, or attend the latest product seminar. And given that my compensation package is based on successfully delivering these new business outcomes I'm pretty motivated to remain focused.
Some time before Christmas I'm also going to have to rip into my other areas of responsibility which include research, electronic services, editorial councils and external IS suppliers. That's a pretty heady mix that gives me a mandate to operate across a range of areas in the company but it also imposes an obligation to learn and understand those areas.
One of Australia's top research analysts has this very annoying habit of beginning his conversations with me by saying: "I was talking to a real CIO the other day" as though my position was simply something of a gimmick. He grew out of the old mainframe mentality so I guess it's not surprising that he can't see past the dollar signs and the entrenched hierarchies of the past. He's wrong about my job being a gimmick. It's actually about survival in a cruel new world where all the rules are changing.
Andrew Birmingham is the CIO of IDG Communications. Why not share your pain with him at Andrew_Birmingham@idg.com.au
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