IT Leadership – The Dual Role of Today’s CIO

There is a question about the evolving role of the CIO that is making the rounds on the blogs. Essentially the question is this ― What do you consider the role of the CIO to be? Is it focusing on creating value through technology or running an efficient IT shop?

From where I sit as a long-time CIO, the answer is “both”. The higher function is creating business value, but you can’t really do that unless you have an efficient IT shop. The question also highlights the challenges that the modern CIO faces when putting together a strategy to support the business needs and goals of the company.

I’ve had the opportunity recently to work with a company that has business units scattered throughout the country. The IT function is doing a decent job of keeping the lights on and the essential business technology up and running reliably. However, in talking to the CEO, he’s frustrated that he can’t get the kind of information he needs to make decisions. Basic information is buried in a multitude of reports and has little value when decisions need to be made quickly. The data that management needs is unorganized and not readily available. Yet, the IT shop is efficient they’re just not providing much value as far as management is concerned.

I believe that the CIO role is responsible for creating business value using technology tools. The focus has to be on the Information instead of the Technology. Building an It (big I, little t) shop requires the CIO to focus on how the business strategy and the information that the rest of the executive team needs to execute on that strategy. Since strategy is made up of many parts that need to be measured and followed, the CIO is the one that puts together the architecture and systems that provide the metrics that every other part of the business needs to keep their part of the strategy heading in the right direction.

The biggest challenge here is getting the business unit managers to define their key performance indicators (KPI) in ways that allow them to be measured. That’s where the CIO role begins to diverge from efficient technology management and begins to go down the road of business value creation. The CIO in this situation is almost a consultant to the other business unit managers. He or she helps define the business unit information needs and then utilizes technology resources to deliver those morsels of good data to the right people at the right time.

It’s bit like driving a car, you have gauges that tell you how fast you’re going, how much fuel you’re using, an odometer to tell how far along you are and a GPS to let you know if you’re going in the right direction ― and to let you know when you’re off course. Getting the readouts on the dashboard right is absolutely critical or you’re going to blow up the car or wind up in the ditch or run out of gas. The CIO is the guy that makes sure that the data from every part of the business engine gets to the right set of eyes so adjustments can be made based on as complete a set of information as possible.

Can all this be done without an efficient IT organization? Probably not. That’s why the CIO also has to make sure that he keeps his organization well tuned and running at its best. The CIO has to use all the resources he has to make sure that the business value is continuously created while at the same time keeping the IT shop in tip-top shape. This is a delicate balancing act but one that a good CIO does every day.

Mike Scheuerman is an independent consultant with more than 26 years experience in strategic business planning and implementation. His experience from the computer room to the boardroom provides a broad-spectrum view of how technology can be integrated with and contributes significantly to business strategy. Mike can be reached at [email protected].