Does Fuzzy Job Definition Put CIO Role at Risk?


Practically since the CIO role was introduced, there's been an ongoing debate about what CIOs do. Just last month, at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, several attendees opined it was time to come up with a new title that would better reflect the responsibilities of today's technology executives. Among the suggestions: Chief Organizational Officer, Chief Simplicity Officer and Strategy Execution Officer.


Earlier this week, CIO.com's Martin Veitch compared the CIO role to bullfighting. That is, "Not many people know much about it, but everyone has a strong opinion on it."


The underlying uncertainty has led some folks to question the need for tech execs to even have a technical background.


Far more troubling, it could cause some companies to eliminate the role. That seems to be what happened at financial services company USB, where CTO and head of IT Peter Sany exited the company after just 10 weeks on the job following the CEO's announcement that one of USB's cost-cutting strategies involved "pooling services such as information technology." As InformationWeek's David Evans notes, this suggests USB views IT as "just another commodity service, like HR and facilities, waiting to be pooled."


Or outsourced, I'd add. As IT Business Edge's Loraine Lawson wrote in March, banks like JP Morgan Chase are offshoring to help streamline their IT operations, which in many cases are a large and complex mess following years of growth based primarily on acquiring other banks.


As Evans writes, even Sany's position on a senior managing board apparently couldn't help IT's reputation at USB.


What can CIOs do to save their skins? As I wrote back in February, now would be a great time to demonstrate how IT can cost-effectively deliver technology that can give a company competitive edge.