As an enterprise evolves through the various stages of architectural maturity, the CIO role evolves along with it, says Jeanne W. Ross, the principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research. In Stage 1 companies, the CIO’s job typically is focused on maintaining the technology plumbing. In Stage 2, the CIO needs to play a more strategic role to coordinate the shift to a common platform and its effect on the enterprise. Sometimes, as organizations go through Stage 2, “there’s a weird tendency to bring in a non-IT person” Ross observes. As the technology stabilizes in Stage 2, process issues come to the forefront and a technology-focused CIO may seem less able to handle them, according to Ron Schmelzer, a senior analyst at SOA consultancy ZapThink.
The CIO role begins to cross organizational boundaries in the journey to Stage 3. Ironically, as an enterprise moves into Stage 4 and business leaders gain more control over the deployment of IT services, the CIO role can again become more tactical, says former MeadWestvaco CIO (now VP) Jim McGrane who, seeing that shift begin at his own company, has decided that’s not a job he wants. (He left his position in April of this year to focus on other areas.) But losing the policy dimension of the CIO role is not inevitable, argues Judith Hurwitz, CEO of the consultancy Hurwitz & Associates. “You can focus on innovation because the operational efficiencies achieved [by SOA] give you that time,” she says.
As enterprises move through latter maturity stages, Ross argues that IT “should be part of something bigger, such as shared services, operations or finance,” shedding its role as a mere technology provider. In that evolution, the CIO becomes the head—or a leader—in a more broadly defined operation. At financial services provider State Street, for instance, IT and operations have merged. Pharmaceuticals company Merck has made IT part of shared services. And paper maker MeadWestvaco has recently done the same.
But it’s the enterprise’s view of the individual CIO’s abilities that really matters in determining what role he will play in a Stage 4 organization.
Schmelzer notes that many companies have a VP of marketing and sales, a role that combines two very different functions, while other companies have a separate VP for each. IT’s role is even broader, he notes, combining architecture, design, and integration and operations. Few CIOs will be strong in all three; some will be strong in only two. Management may view IT as a discrete function or as a subset of a greater services organization.
But no matter the organizational structure, the CIO needs to be as knowledgeable about the business as the technology.