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.

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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. To build a common language and trust between our business and technology associates, my team and I created organizational structures, compensation plans and career development programs to drive alignment. We also educated our business partners about what technology could and, sometimes more importantly, could not do to support Marriott, and we educated ourselves about Marriott's key business drivers. We have moved beyond alignment to convergence, and Marriott's business and IT teams jointly recognize the potential of technology-enabled business systems.

While technology advances and IT-business alignment account for some of the changes we have seen in the role of the CIO and our respective organizations, other factors have also come into play. Certainly, major events like Y2K and 9/11 revealed just how reliant our companies are on technology. With these events, concepts such as business continuity and redundant layers of communication, which had once been side notes, came to the forefront as mission-critical business needs and leadership opportunities for the CIO. Incidentally, I'm one of the people to blame for Y2K. I recall being in a cubicle at Bendix during the late 1960s designing file layouts and trying to fit everything into 80 columns, when a colleague said to me, "You know, this won't work when we hit 2000." I laughed and said, "This won't be around in 2000." What did I know?

More recently, outsourcing, information security, risk management and globalization have grown in relative importance to most companies. Business leaders are looking to IT leaders for our insights, recognizing that we have often pioneered these areas on behalf of our companies as we have looked for greater efficiencies or simply managed day-to-day operations.

Are We There Yet?

Today the role of CIO is a far cry from the days of this magazine's launch. CIOs and our teams are accountable not only for using technology to enable business processes but also for helping shape the strategic direction of our companies and drive profitability. We are now expected to be business leaders foremost. Our business peers ask us for our thoughts about corporate direction or policy apart from technology. They also approach us with insightful ideas about how technology can transform our business.

Yet, for all of our advances over the last 20 years, there are still companies and industries where the CIO role lags behind its true potential. Where IT is part of the company's end product or service, there is usually an aggressive approach to IT leadership enabling and shaping business value. Where IT is not a critical component, there isn't that same pressure, and therefore many CIOs are slow to push the boundaries of their role and what IT can do. These companies will fall behind.

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