by Abbie Lundberg

The CIO Role is One of Constant Change

Feb 15, 20063 mins

The pace of change is accelerating, as it has so many times before. But what’s different this time is that change is penetrating all aspects of the CIO’s world, including the way IT contributes to the business, the way software is developed and acquired, and the way CIOs communicate with the people who work in their companies and beyond. All change has ripple effects and needs to be managed. And it can have unintended consequences too.

In “Highway to Value” on Page 66, Senior Writer Ben Worthen profiles the evolution of GM’s OnStar system, this year’s Grand Winner of the CIO Enterprise Value Awards. OnStar is a model of the powerful way in which IT can contribute value to a business and the kind of journey a company has to take to get there. The vanguard of value has changed dramatically since we published our first Enterprise Value Award issue 14 years ago. Back then, a lot of applications were basic automation plays, and any customer-service initiative was novel. OnStar, however, delivers in multiple dimensions: not just improving but changing the terms of customer service and interaction; increasing safety; driving quality into the core product (GM’s cars); and laying the groundwork for future development.

GM executives learned that real innovation rarely results from a linear process. It starts with smart people who have the knowledge and imagination to envision the new technology’s possibilities and the latitude to experiment creatively. But that’s not enough. Few efforts are instant home runs, and OnStar was no exception. But because those leading the effort measured their results, sought and analyzed customer feedback dispassionately, adjusted their focus to what they gleaned (making sure it aligned with the company’s mission) and broadly communicated the new focus, they were able to dramatically change the significance and value of OnStar to GM and its customers.

Our cover story, “Free Code for Sale,” by Executive Editor Christopher Koch, sheds light on a major shift on the vendor side that’s changing the way CIOs both acquire and develop software. The simple days of build versus buy (or outsource) are gone forever. With the entry of open source into the mainstream, CIOs must consider a broader and more complex set of options: open source plus service; open source mixed with proprietary; open source plus hardware; and so on. Koch explains it all and tells you how to successfully navigate this potentially confusing plethora of options.

Finally, columnist Michael Schrage issues a call for CIOs to start blogs to communicate with their staff and colleagues. According to our 2006 “State of the CIO” research (see the Jan. 1 issue at, the personal skill most crucial to CIO success is the ability to communicate effectively, and a blog can certainly be a useful tool for that. “In time,” Schrage writes in “Think Before You Blog” on Page 34, “C-level blogging will be as prevalent as C-level speeches, telecons and PowerPoint presentations. How well they’re done will say volumes about the executives’ style and substance—or lack thereof.” That being the case, CIOs should start small and learn fast, gathering lots of feedback along the way.

Change can be exciting, but when there’s so much of it going on, it’s a challenge to get caught up in it without getting swept away.