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The CIO Role Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

The CIO Role Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Marriott International CIO Carl Wilson tells why it's up to today's IT leaders to teach future CIOs tomorrow's skills

In 1987, I was working at The Pillsbury Company under Vice President of Information Management John Hammitt (the title of CIO was not widely used at that time) when CIO's founding Editor Marcia Blumenthal came to visit with him about ideas on feature articles for a startup magazine for our then-emerging profession. I went along to the meeting, I must admit, primarily for the free lunch. Now, 20 years later, I am honoured to be asked to reflect on the changes in the CIO role for the magazine's upcoming 20th anniversary in October.

When the inaugural issue of CIO hit the streets, successful CIOs were mostly seen as strong technologists. Many of the leading technologies of the time-MS-DOS, Apple's Macintosh, IBM PCs, Windows and analog mobile phones-were designed to enable individual productivity. Reflecting the standalone nature of those technologies, companies created predominantly siloed IT functions that reported to finance or to a unique line of business, with limited cross-functional interaction.

Marriott and other companies recognized, however, that a more strategic role for the CIO alone is not enough to sustain a real business-technology partnership

Our business peers thought of us as data processing or information systems managers and not chief information officers. IT, not the business, "owned" the technology, and we were solely responsible for making it work.

The Cross-Enterprise Era

And then, a little over a decade ago, the IT profession began to come of age with the rise of technologies such as the Web, Java programming and wired and wireless local-area networks. These tools made it economically feasible to enable business processes across functions and speed up decision making. CIOs started to look horizontally across functions and became involved in all aspects of the business. Business leaders began to see technology's potential to integrate business processes, and they began to seriously assume their role as the ultimate owners of that technology. CIOs gained meaningful seats at the table; we were at last positioned to automate processes horizontally and achieve the real value of IT.

My experience at Marriott International mirrors these changes. I joined Marriott 10 years ago as its first CIO and an officer of the company. Our technology then was predominantly back-office. With the advent of CRM, IT moved out to the hotel front desk, enabling guest recognition. Then IT moved into the guest room with high-speed Internet access. Now with our Web reservation systems, technology is in our guests' homes and offices. Marriott.com brings in more than $4 billion in annual revenue-that's IT driving top-line growth. When our Chairman and CEO Bill Marriott launched his public blog Marriott on the Move earlier this year, I knew that Marriott had reached a new milestone in the power and reach of technology. His blog has had more than 175,000 hits since its launch in January of this year. The expectation that we will take care of the back-office technology has never gone away, but now we also have accountability for this broader scope of IT.

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