I've written before about IT's role in process improvement, concluding that while some business executives believe they are better positioned to lead improvement initiatives, it makes more sense for IT to assume that role, thanks to its high-level organizational view, technology expertise and familiarity with process modeling and analysis.
Some folks think the CIO position will split into two separate roles: one devoted to process improvement and the other to information technology. In an interview from late 2006, Philip Lay of TCG Advisors told me:
It reflects reality in terms of the demands for two different types of skillset. In other words, it was probably unrealistic in the first place to expect one person to manage both aspects.
Michael Cusumano, a management professor in MIT's Sloan School and author of several books on the software industry, apparently suggested during the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium that a CIO is not the right person to lead process improvement efforts.
InformationWeek blogger Tom Soat reports this exchange with Tom Malone, another Sloan School professor and author of "The Future Of Work":
Malone: "One of the most interesting opportunities for the CIO today is to move from a technology architect to a process architect."
Cusumano: "I would not trust the CIO to re-architect the organization."
Malone: "Does it depend on the who the CIO is?"
Cusumano: "No, I don't think it does."
So does Cusumano think CIOs are inherently not suited for a process-improvement role? Or, like Lay, does he see a need for a devoted chief process improvement officer (who may or may not have been a CIO in a previous life)? It isn't clear.
To end on a troubling note, CIOs tend to focus more on nuts-and-bolts technology issues when asked about their expectations for IT, as opposed to business executive who stress items like customer relationships, entering new markets and, yes, process improvement, according to a Gartner Executive Programs survey from 2oo7.
Many CIOs can't seem to see the business forest because they're focused on the technology trees. CEOs don't seem to realize that you can't get trees or a forest without first planting some seeds. Getting them together seems as challenging as building a house from raw timber.