The fact that some Chief Information Officers are poor executives has been misinterpreted to mean that the entire genus is suspect. It is true that ongoing longitudinal research associated with the CIO Solutions Gallery Program hosted by the College of Engineering at The Ohio State University indicates that 61% of CIOs in the Global 2000 are labelled by their C-Suite peers as being “too inwardly focused,” perceived as “being in the way” versus pointing the way, and seen as being “too slow,” “too expensive,” and “not innovative enough.” But in my view – from having worked closely with countless CIOs – this executive position is here to stay … and that’s a good thing. Here are five reasons why CIOs matter now more than they ever did.
Reason #1: IT Is Not A Commodity
Don Tapscott, a public speaker, recently opined that the future of CIOs is to stock the shelves of the “IT Services Supermarket.” Portraying the future role of the CIO as little more than a stock boy for commodity products totally misses the point and the future trajectory of the CIO. I have spent a good part of my professional career arguing that the role of the CIO is not to be a “Device Santa Claus” but, rather, to craft an environment which empowers executives to create competitive advantage vis-à-vis the innovative and informed use of information technology.
If you want to see the future of IT, don’t go to Tapscott’s “supermarket” – check out Michael Keithley’s IT portfolio at Creative Artist’s Agency [CAA]. They are ahead of every curve. There is nothing “commoditized” about what they are doing. Michael has been with CAA for 23+ years. His digital journey starts with the user as he engages in meaningful conversations about operational realities, fears, and dreams. He distills the insights emerging from user demand signals, has “can you build something like this” conversations with the solution provider and venture capital community, and then creates an IT infrastructure that anticipates the needs of his organization. So let’s put the bogus claim that “CIO stands for ‘Career is Over’” to bed once and for all.
Reason #2: IT Must Be Led, Not Just Managed
Conceptually, we all know there is a fundamental difference between “leadership” and “management.” “Management” is efficiently “getting there.” “Leadership” is determining “where ‘there’ is.” During the last decade, IT leadership skills atrophied as many organizations engaged in draconian “denominator” [i.e., cost/expense] reduction exercises. “There” was lower cost. In 2015 and beyond, however, the CIO will lead the process which determines where the new digital “there” is.
Reason #3: Some Assembly Required
John Chambers, chairman of the board and CEO of Cisco systems, likes to tell audiences that in 1984, the year Cisco was founded, there were only 1,000 devices connected on the Internet. In 2020, it is estimated that not only will 500+ billion devices be connected to the Internet, they will be programmable as well. This is a lot of moving parts. The CIO is the executive best suited by training, experience, and temperament to orchestrate the unique opportunity which total connectivity and programmability presents.
Reason #4: Someone Has To Teach Us
One of the most important unexplored phenomena in the economy today is the juxtaposition of our great dependence on technology with the relative ignorance of boards of directors and senior management teams about technology – specifically, how to make money with technology. The media has mistaken technology ubiquity with technology facility. They are not the same. For example, having an iPad and a smartphone is very different from having the vision to architect the iTunes ecosystem and design a global supply chain. The CIO is the executive best positioned to precipitate and moderate the conversations which create the vision of how information technology will move the enterprise forward.
Reason #5: There’s Enough Digital Work For Everyone
My colleagues in the industry-watching business have accurately chronicled the rise of new titles in the executive suite. Much has been written regarding the arrival of Chief Digital Officers, Chief Data Officers, Chief Information Security Officers, and Chief Marketing Officers – all of whom are hungry to “get busy” with technology. This differentiation is not an omen of doom for the CIO. It is an affirmation of the continuing importance of leadership in the digital space. For an enterprise to be world class, every datum has to be managed, analyzed, put to work, and then properly archived or disposed of. Trust me: there’s enough digital work for everyone.
The world has gone digital. Companies rise and fall on the quality of their information technology. The CIO plays a critical role as he or she creates a competitive business advantage with that technology, leads the company effectively into the digital space, coordinates the multiple parts of the business that connect through the Internet, engages in strategic conversations with their peers, and oversees a digital environment that is growing exponentially year by year. Yes, the CIO is here to stay – in a role that is going to be better than ever!
A version of this article was originally published on Forbes and Sungard AS.