by Vanessa Alvarez

MIT CIO Symposium: Why Silos Must Go

May 25, 2010
Data Center

The role of the CIO is changing due to technology, economic and behavioral shifts.

“At the end of the day, a CIO’s #1 job is to be a business person, with specialty in technology”

The above quote was representative of the theme at MIT CIO Symposium held last week in Cambridge MA.  In the last few years the role of IT in enterprises has been evolving.  It has come from a number of different changes:  technological, organizational, and behavioral (GenY, etc).  Many roles within IT as they exist today have become marginalized, or worse, irrelevant.  The role of C-level executives in general has evolved as well, to include many different characteristics.  The role of CIO, in particular, continues to evolve, as information and data becomes an even more core component of enterprises today. 

We have seen the business/IT alignment happening for quite some time now.  However, challenges persist, as business needs are not being understood from a business perspective, by IT.  In the past, there have been silos amongst business units and IT. 

However, this is the era of information, and mass amounts of information are being thrown at enterprises today.  In addition to this, IT resources have become easier to acquire, and many business units are circumventing IT.  It’s critical for a CIO to bring together a team that can bring both an understanding of technology and the business acumen, in order to help the organization make the right decisions with respect to new technologies, partnerships, and/or business models.  A CIO must be able to not only impart technical expertise on his team, but also demonstrate how to apply that expertise to the business and have the team understand how technology can ultimately add to a bottom line.  IT should essentially become part of an enterprise’s competitive advantage and demonstrate its value.

Parallel to this, the relationship between CIO and COO has traditionally been tense.  However, moving forward, the two roles must be able to work together and openly communicate what each is doing, as what each is responsible for impacts the others’ decisions and responsibilities. Additionally, it would benefit to include other business unit leaders such as a CMO and/or CFO in some of the decision making processes that CIO and COO own.

All business units within an enterprise must have open lines of communication, and ensure that the right message is being communicated.  A CIO’s team should communicate the overall technology strategy to the business and communicate how this aligns with the business requirements.  I would venture to say that in some organizations, cross pollination is possible, and would benefit each C-level executive from learning the basics of his/her peers’ roles.  The intention is to have each role understand the other’s responsibilities and decisions from a different, albeit important perspective.

Technologies, business and operational models are transforming the way internal organizations are run, and there is no longer a place for silos. The on-demand and fluid IT environments today require an internal organization that can also be fluid, as in understanding all aspects of the business to some degree.  Silos must be broken down and lines of communication must be opened up. 

This mandate must come from the CEO in a unified message that is fully supported by his direct reports so that the message can uniformly flow throughout the organization. Showing a united front will ensure that the rest of the organization understands this change in organizational behavior, and will understand how it relates to the success of the business. 

Vanessa Alvarez is an Industry Analyst with Frost & Sullivan focusing on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and market dynamics in the area of enterprise infrastructure in North America. Follow her on Twitter @VanessaAlvarez1.