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BI, CI, Oh!

BI, CI, Oh!

While the business information officer - BIO - title may be flashy and American, the need is global.

It was a US job advertisement that piqued the interest: A financial services company in Virginia wanted a business information officer - a supercharged go-between to shuttle between the business unit and the technology group. Does Australia need someone similar? Beverley Head shuttles between the experts to find an answer.

"It's typical of the US - creating a flashy title," says Malcolm Freame, director of infrastructure for Ernst & Young, based in Sydney.

While the business information officer - BIO - title may be flashy and American, the need is global, confirms Freame. "The CIO role in the organisation has grown beyond IT management, and there is a skills gap between them and the business. They need someone in a brokering role," he says.

At Capital One in the US, which placed the recruitment ad, the sought after business information officer was to work intimately with the business units to map a one- to three-year vision, identify the business processes and information flows that would be required to support that vision, convey it to the IT department and ensure that the systems the IT department created meshed perfectly with what the business would require. The individual was also to act as a change agent for the business unit, driving through process change or championing new technologies where they would add value to the business unit, even if the business unit had not commissioned them directly.

The BIO clearly was to be hostage neither to the business nor the technology department. Importantly, he or she was to be empowered to act decisively.

Freame says the person filling the BIO role needs to sit comfortably between the business and the information service delivery arm. He says that the emergence of the position was not a reflection on the performance of CIOs so much as a recognition that CIOs could either be highly skilled in information management, or more technologically skilled. "They can't wear both hats," Freame says.

Ernst & Young has tackled the issue by appointing a director of business systems, who is separate from, but on a level with, the firm's CIO. Philip Langley is the director of business systems, reports to Freame and is both IT savvy and business aware. "The scope of his role is to look at the main business processes and the way that IT supports them," says Freame. "Stephen Arnold [the CIO] is involved in the development of infrastructure and support, They are peers and both report through me."

Interestingly, Freame does wear two hats. He is also the company's chief knowledge officer. and by acting as a funnel for both IT and business intelligence, he probably has a clearer perspective on the firm's knowledge management requirements and delivery capabilities.

Mark Lelliott, managing partner of executive search firm Highland Partners, says that although he has not seen the term "BIO" used by Australian companies seeking information systems staff, that is not "because organisations are not readdressing the relationship between business and technology". Rather, as Freame says, they're just not using flashy job titles. Lelliott has recently been involved with two Australian organisations seeking employees to "manage the relationship between the business unit and technology".

"One organisation has a matrix approach and they are seeking to put individuals in who understand that and can manage the information needs of the matrix," he says. In that case, which involves a particularly large enterprise, Lelliott says the business solutions manager reported through a head of business solutions who then reported to the CIO. Unlike the Ernst & Young situation, the CIO in this situation had rank on the BIO - arguably counter to the ideal where each role would exercise equal clout.

The other, a smaller organisation, had defined a new "customer management role" says Lelliott. Business analysts within the different business units in that organisation reported to that customer manager their information needs, which were then translated into technical blueprints for solutions fulfilled by the IT group.

In August this year Integral Energy also went looking for what it referred to as a "business intelligence manager" for whom it was prepared to pay around $110,000 a year. The job specification, which appeared in the national press, called for someone to "identify enterprise requirements for reporting, link these to the corporate data architecture and provide the structures to users. Also required are hands-on data modelling activities to provide the business with commercial information," the job specification continued. "You will also need to establish standards and toolsets to develop a self-service environment for business reports while educating business users on its functionality."

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