Ready or Not, CIO Role Is Changing


Is a CIO by any other name still a CIO? That's a tough question to answer, since so many folks seem uncertain what the heck a CIO does. Some, like Wired's Chris Anderson, apparently think it doesn't amount to much. Anderson's opinion notwithstanding, lots of folks agree that many business-critical functionsfall under the purview of the CIO.


Not surprisingly, there's a pretty lengthy history of folks suggesting the CIO title should be changed to more accurately describe the role of technology executives. For instance, when I interviewed Philip Lay of TCG Advisors way back in 2006, he suggested that the CIO role should be split into two separate functions, a chief process innovation officer and chief information technology officer.


That idea was echoed at this week's sixth annual MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, an event chronicled on SearchCIO.com, when Alan Trefler, CEO at business process management specialist Pegasystems Inc., said he thought CIOs needed to focus on process optimization. Other suggestions for a CIO refresh offered during the event: Chief Simplicity Officer, Chief Organizational Officer and Strategy Execution Officer. All seemed to hit upon the perenially popular idea that CIOs need to promote the idea of technology as a business enabler.


With such game-changing shifts in technology delivery as cloud computing hovering on the horizon, focus will naturally shift from simply providing technology services to positioning those services as a key part of overall business strategy. Not all CIOs will be able to make the switch, commented Thomas Malone, the Patrick J. McGovern Professor of Management at MIT Sloan.


Earlier this month when I interviewed Robert Austin, one of three authors of "The Adventures of an IT Leader," he told me much the same thing. He said:

If you come from a technical background, it's a challenge to develop an appropriately outward-looking sensibility. The classic problem for a technical person is that, because you do feel expert in technical areas, in the moments that you should be going and being consultative with the CEO, your reflex is to go and hang with your team instead and help them solve the problem.