IT Gets Organized: Introducing The Office of the CIO

An Office of the CIO can improve IT management and free up the CIO. But it’s only as good as the deputies who fill the slots.

By Thomas Wailgum
Thu, July 01, 2004

CIO — Organizational structure is one tool that CIOs wield in their perennial effort to build a better IT group. Now a new structure, the Office of the CIO, or OCIO, has gained favor in government and academic circles, and is spreading to large companies in the private sector.

Simply put, an Office of the CIO structure is a team-oriented approach to IT management in which the CIO delegates specialized IT roles-essentially, the ideal IT org chart. An OCIO is born out of a desire for solid IT governance processes-a vision of repeatable IT processes, clear lines of project accountability and consistent communication of standards. It’s meant to leave CIOs time to rub elbows with their executive brethren. Which is exactly what they should be doing.

"Having an OCIO helps me improve the throughput and deal with the complexity that all of the businesses are dealing with, because my time is now more focused on that very valuable face-to-face time that I can spend with my peers and CEO," says Toyota Motor Sales CIO Barbra Cooper, who rolled out an OCIO structure in January. "I was thinking of the OCIO as beginning to blur the lines between IT and the business function."

An OCIO can be a remedy to the increasing demands of business, says Jonathan Poe, a senior vice president at Meta Group. "Every business leader is finding that their world is expanding and that they’re having to do their jobs faster. The question comes down to: How should I operate as an executive? The Office of the CIO empowers [deputies] to act as the CIO because they are the better communicator or the operations-oriented coordinator. They’re going to do a better job than the CIO."

So if OCIOs hold such promise, then why are there so few?

Perhaps because it takes a lot of work to run one well. It’s sometimes viewed as adding bureaucratic layers to IT organizations. And an OCIO demands unusual CIO leadership. "The mark of a good CIO is that he’s confident enough to delegate and give up stuff. A lot of CIOs are loath to give up technical kinds of things," says Dr. Frank Clark, CIO of the Medical University of South Carolina, whose OCIO structure is a year old. "They have to have enough confidence in themselves and their teams to delegate to the Office of the CIO. Then it becomes a little less overwhelming."

How to Elect Your Delegates

OCIO structures vary by industry, but most OCIOs have a few core responsibilities: finance, HR, vendor management, communications, infrastructure, project management and new technology. The number of functional directors within an OCIO also varies: CIOs and analysts recommend anywhere from four to 12, though it’s better to start with fewer positions and add as necessary.

Continue Reading

Our Commenting Policies