by Susannah Patton

Interview: Michael Earl on the Changing Role of the CIO

Apr 01, 20013 mins

During the past 10 years, Michael Earl has interviewed and studied hundreds of CIOs, asking them to assess their current role and predict how it will change in the near future. Now a professor of information management at the London Business School, Earl is known for his work at the intersection of information technology and business strategy. CIO spoke to the 57-year-old Oxford resident about his views on the changing role of the CIO.

CIO: How do you see the cio’s role evolving during the next five years?

Earl: I think there are two plausible scenarios. One is that it will become normal to have both a CIO and a CTO. The CIO will be the systems strategist, the business strategist and maybe the information and knowledge custodian as well; and the CTO will be the service provider and make technology policy. The CTO will be the guardian of the current business, while the CIO will be the guardian of future business. The other, less likely scenario is that the CIO [will be] essentially a CTO, just responsible for the technology side. Other executives may say, “Well, we can do all the rest. We can do business strategy. We can determine the right systems investments.” But I think in three years’ time, we’ll have this binary split between CIOs and CTOs.

Do you see such a split as a threat to CIOs?

No. I think it’s more positive than negative because it allows [CIOs] to decide which side of the fence they’re better suited for. It allows them to have a slightly more manageable job. People are concerned about the conflict between work and family, or lifestyle. The job can be just too demanding. CIOs can ask themselves, “Am I really more of a strategist or more of a technologist?”

How has the rise of e-business changed the CIO’s role?

First of all, the CIO is expected to contribute to business development and to strategy discussions about e-commerce initiatives. Second, a lot of e-commerce initiatives involve other IT vendors, so [CIOs] are managing more and more relationships. Third, the technology platform is going to keep changing so they’ve got to be abreast of new technologies. Some of the e-commerce initiatives have been happening without the CIO or the IT department getting involved at all. And sometimes the CIO is coming in a bit late.

Is this a good time to be a CIO?

There’s never been a more exciting time. Hardly anybody in business doubts that we’ve entered the information age and that IT is driving it. And once businesspeople realize that technology needs to be scalable, diversifiable and robust, they will know they need professional help. This is perhaps the biggest opportunity that’s come along for CIOs to show they’re business strategists.