by Michael Friedenberg

Chief Enabling Officer

Mar 10, 20083 mins

Everyone knows the CIO role is changing, but for better or worse?

I travel a lot in my job. In my travels, I get to meet some really interesting people. For instance, I had a fascinating dinner with a number of CIOs recently in San Francisco. The wine and food were tremendous and the conversation was even better. It’s remarkable what happens when you get smart people together, ask a simple question and listen. The question, “Will the role of CIO be around for a while?” generated a fair amount of heat.

Now my livelihood, like yours, is predicated on the answer to this question, so you can understand why I shut up and tuned in. What seemed to become consensus is that the role of the CIO will be around for a long time, but it is going to change dramatically in regard to focus and scale.

Pat Lawicki, SVP and CIO of PG&E, articulated it best when she said that CIOs will be less about the information or the technology and more about the ability to enable the business. The CIO will still need to be an expert on the technology and how the information flows within the business, because, as Lawicki said, “You can’t implement the business strategy without a sound technology philosophy, and you can certainly disable the business if you are unable to execute based on lack of technology capability.”

However, beneath all that, the role of the CIO will be about a number of changing dynamics: enabling the business to grow versus just optimizing performance, saying yes instead of no, allowing open innovation rather than closed, traditional R&D practices, creating a culture of strategic growth and innovation and empowering the customer to make decisions that drive a heightened value proposition for both the customer and supplier.

Pat talked about PG&E’s SmartMeter program, which allows customers to understand how they are consuming power and make decisions as to when they want to use it in real time. IT was the driving force behind this initiative, and while it wasn’t new to collect massive amounts of data on user habits, what was new and innovative was pushing this information back to consumers, who could utilize it in a manner to change their own behavior. Pretty cool! Pretty empowering!

So when the debate starts to heat up again about the future role and title of the CIO, rather than focus on the future, maybe we should observe the evolution. That might just lead us to say it is CEO…Chief Enabling Officer. Has a nice ring to it.