Chief information officer, innovation officer, information director, senior manager of business systems. These roles have fallen under many names and expectations.
The CIO is the executive job title commonly given to people at an enterprise level. He or she oversees the tech systems and strategy needed to support the business’ objectives.
Having the title of chief brings with it an expectation of involvement with other chiefs across the organisation. That of a peer within a group, from the outside you would expect it to be up there with the chief enterprise officer, chief financial officer or chief operations officer. A bunch of chiefs working together as one group; the CEO being the supreme chief or captain of a team of c-level executives.
For some organisations this is the case, but in many, it is not. CIOs have reported to CFOs, head librarians, and executives of business services. CIOs can be as far as three or four degrees of separation from a CEO. The greater that separation, the greater the lack of executive digital literacy.
Low literacy leads to digital debt that will come back to haunt a business for many years as decisions made by ill-advised ‘friends’ of executives who don’t engage with the CIO, become costly. Executives in this type of organisation consider the technology group a burden; their failures are IT’s fault and have nothing to do with their own decisions.
But in another type of organisation where the separation between IT and other business groups is reduced, things look quite different. The CIO becomes part of the executive and technology becomes an investment that can help the business prosper.
Here’s what is really different about these two types of organisations.
Business type 1: IT is a cost burden
The IT group and the business are separate. The business complains that IT is just not working and the group doesn’t understand its needs. Many people in these types of businesses have heard of better technologies from a friend of a friend. They feel that if it wasn’t for IT, the business would run properly.
IT on the other hand complains bitterly about the fact that executives don’t understand the technology. They feel that if only executives would listen to IT, the business would be better off. They believe the business just doesn’t understand the benefits of what the latest operating system will do for them.
“If only we could update all the servers and PCs, the organisation would be happier,” the IT group says.
These organisations have built a fence between business and IT; each party blaming the other for problems.
Business type 2: IT maximises ROI
IT is an integral part of the business, providing seamless and effective delivery of services. There is no discussion about operating systems, desktops, and applications. All conversations are around information and its distribution; how and where access is provided to users.
These organisations provide users with the right information to help them do a better job. The IT group shares information with the end user no matter the technology, location or time.
So where does the CIO sit in these business?
Business type 1: The CIO keeps the lights on
The CIO here goes by another title; the IT manager or senior manager. Their role is seen as a functionary one; to keep the lights on and make sure that when systems fall over, they can get them going again.
These people don’t have time to develop strategies; they can barely manage preserving the systems. Besides, the CFO or someone else looking to keep a lid on costs will ultimately decide which systems are necessary.
IT has become such a cost that they don’t want to invest in new infrastructure; existing systems have been running for years. Why spend more money?
IT promised the world during the last system refresh; a fortune was spent to improve existing processes that were already working. After all that, the new technologies and business processes are more complicated than ever.
This CIO’s technology group is viewed as a waste of money; outsourced service providers are believed to provide better value. Executives feel that the IT group should just look after the desktops; they know the business better than IT so they will run the projects themselves and let the CIO and his or her technology staff just keep it going.
Business type 2: The CIO is integral to the business
The CIO in this business spends little time if any within IT, they are an integral part to the whole business. They work with the executives, to understand the business’ objectives. They know that information can enable and affect business results.
Users are just not interested in the details of the technology; in fact they don’t care about the technology. Their only focus is access to their information, being there at the right time, right place, no matter what solutions are being used.
These CIOs use whatever technology is required – desktops, laptops, tablets, or phones. They don’t waste time over technology decisions and consider everything that their users need.
So are your days numbered? It depends on where you sit and these are two extreme examples. Moving from type 1 to type 2 business won’t happen overnight. What you need to do if your business is a type 1 is to leave the island of IT and join the business.
Become a partner, get to know the business. IT needs to change or it will go the way of the dinosaur – extinct. If this is you, your days are numbered.
Everything that IT does is about information distribution and how users access it. Enabling the user is paramount to deliver business results. If business realises the value of IT, it will invest more. What you propose should improve business processes, save money or do both.
If not, then why would you propose it? Make sure your message connects with business and it’s focused on innovation and improvement.
The role of CIO needs to engage with the business. Become a partner, know the business. Make no mistake about it, IT and business need one another.
Marc Dimmick is a technology and management strategist at Consilium Futuri – Design the future.
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