CIO: Most Thankless Job in the Enterprise?

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Is the CIO the most thankless job in the enterprise?


Sure sounds like it, based upon recent blogs authored by Wired Magazine's Chris Anderson and CIO Magazine's Christopher Koch. Their war of the words, rather gleefully detailed by Nicholas Carr in his Rough Type blog, began when Anderson attended a CIO Magazine conference and came back with the impression that most CIOs are "dead weight" and "one step above Building Maintenance."


Koch's rebuttal made the point that most CIOs come from a technology background and thus are not "business people who have been given the thankless jobs of keeping the lights on, IT wise," as Anderson had portrayed them. And while Anderson had implied that most CIOs' resistance to Web 2.0 technologies stemmed from a desire to preserve the status quo, Koch's take was that much of Web 2.0 seems "redundant" to CIOs.


While the two men obviously have vastly differing opinions on the importance of the CIO's role, Carr says that, in essence, they agree that CIOs are more about maintaining control than about enabling business innovation. The CIO is the least defined position in the C-suite, says Carr, and also "the most prone to identity crises."


We think Carr is on to something there, at least with the latter views. For proof, we have this CIOUpdate article, in which the author contends that the "I" in CIO stands not only for "Information," but also for "Integration," "Innovation" (take that, Chris Anderson), "Irritation," "Identity," "Inoculation," "International" and "Investigative."


Then there's this recent itWorldCanada article, which concludes that CIOs generally fall under four categories: turnaround artist, operational expert, business leader and innovation agent (are you listening, Chris Anderson?).


While four roles is fewer than the eight outlined in the CIOUpdate piece, they all sound like pretty tough shoes for one person to fill. The multiplicity of responsibilities laid out in these articles appears to back up Carr's claim of a role looking hard for a clear-cut identity. Like Sally Field in "Sybil," the CIO needs to find some way to make peace with all of these different identities.


Ultimately, it may be too much to ask of one person. In an interesting interview with IT Business Edge, Philip Lay of TCG Advisors sees two clear roles for the CIO -- chief process innovation officer and chief information technology officer. Lay says these roles demand two separate executives, each with different skill sets and responsibilities. "It was probably unrealistic in the first place to expect one person to manage both aspects," he says.


Lay says we are starting to see this separation occur in the real world, though not in a formal way. "It is starting life as a role before appearing on people's business cards." And while the names of the two positions may change, he says, "the essential trend is clear, and unlikely to be reversed."