A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a former CIO who’s now a general manager for a major corporation. I asked how things were going. Exciting, he said. Challenging. Lots of things to understand quickly in order to set the right direction for the new line of business he’s heading up. I asked what the biggest surprise was for him now that he is on the business side. “The CEO actually likes to talk to me,” he said.
I must have looked amused, because he went on to explain. “When I was a CIO, the CEO valued my opinion and expertise, but it was like our encounters were painful for him—he wanted to escape as quickly as possible. Now the CEO actually seeks me out and wants to hear what I have to say.”
I was surprised. His CIO jobs had been at progressive, technology-driven companies. He’s a smart guy who understands business issues. Nothing had changed about him in the few months from one job to the other. Clearly, the problem had been with the team colors he sported.
While there are things CIOs can do to help bridge the IT-business gap (most of which you’ll find described in this special issue), in some ways the gap is too deeply entrenched in the geography of our organizations to ever be completely overcome. According to at least some observers, the only real answer is for the business side to just go ahead and claim the whole territory. “We’ve had no breakthroughs organizationally or sociologically,” says former Dell CIO Jerry Gregoire in “Come Together” (beginning on Page 79). “[But] we are getting very close to a point where users can develop their own systems within the context of an infrastructure. Alignment won’t be solved, but it also won’t be an issue.”
Others believe that the two sides must merge. Jack Brennan, chairman and CEO of the Vanguard Group, says that “understanding that there is no difference between IT and the business is a critical part of success, and an environment where your IT and business professionals are in synch is a great opportunity to create competitive advantage…. That’s got to happen, and I think, frankly, it’s already happening in the best companies we invest in.”