The Role of the CIO, According to Pepsico CIO Tom Trainer

The difficult job of ending the conference went to another CIO who, if not a “rock star,” was at least very well known to the audience: Tom Trainer of Pepsico.

He talked about his career and mostly about the transformation he’s leading at Pepsico to try to overcome its long evolution as a brand-siloed organization. (“Frito-Lay is all command and control; Quaker Oats never saw a process it didn’t like,” he observed.) Pepsico had 8,300 custom interfaces for 900 applications when he joined in 2001, plus 49 supply chain systems, four instances of Oracle and “it was spreadsheet city.”

He explained how he was trying to restructure governance by getting multiple cultures together to plan strategy for harmonizing and standardizing all that. Much of it was based on work he’s done with the nonprofit Business Technology Management Institute, soon to be released in a book called The Three-Legged Race: When Business and Technology Run Together.

“I don’t think you’ll run out and buy it on account of its title,” Trainer said modestly in his soft Scottish burr. But the ideas, he says, are important. Change is afoot, he believes: “We’re about to witness the marriage of IT and business, where before it was just casual dating.” He warned IT execs against longing for or escaping back to the bad old days of the “glass house,” when IT was separate and mysterious.

But while he talked specifically about the technology work underway at Pepsi and generally about the quantum leap he expected in the design and management of IT and business strategy, the heart of his talk was the CIO’s career.

He’s sick of it.

“No other C-level executives talk about their ‘role’ so much,” he said. You can’t go to a technology conference without someone going on about the role of the CIO. That’s because it has so far been a career—even a good career—but not a profession. And that’s partly because the training that was missing when he was coming up 39 years ago, an agreed-upon, certifiable body of knowledge and experience and the collective wisdom of the repeatable science of technology within business, is still missing.

“Until we can educate a generation equally versed in IT and management sciences, the CIO role will remain uncertain, a career not a profession.”

--Sandy Kendall

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