The Multidimensional CIO

CIOs will be central to this shift from information for processing to information for decision-making. They sit squarely between the acquisition, conditioning, management, and distribution of the new information from a technical perspective, and the assimilation, understanding, and action of the content from a business viewpoint. They’ll be responsible for engineering the first mile of access, as well as the last mile of action that converts information into value.

So much for what the CIO needs to be. What about the roles to avoid?

Here are a few caveats:

Chief Inertia Officer. Inertia is defined as “a property of matter by which it remains at rest or in uniform motion in the same straight line unless acted upon by some external force.”

Inertia is what makes companies continue in a direction long after signs of change have passed. It’s represented by fixed-cost decisions, when the enterprise is sometimes incapable of overcoming bad decisions simply because they were made recently and must be defended despite better reason.

Increasingly, the future isn’t a straight line from the past, and decisions made on that basis won’t serve the enterprise well. The CIO must be a force in overcoming organizational inertia and be a strong voice in understanding not only the points at which systems fail, but also the point at which optimal performance is lacking.

This “if it ain’t broken, break it” attitude will be critical to future success.

Chief Impediment Officer. IT must be a business enabler, not a business impediment. Increasingly, applications are moving closer to business end users. It’s the CIO’s responsibility to ensure this happens seamlessly and to great effect.

Current reports from SOA efforts indicate this transition is being resisted by traditional IT staff and is misunderstood by business staff. The CIO is responsible for smoothing the transition from a legacy IT environment to a business-flexible SOA, where IT will move as rapidly, and with as much agility, as the enterprise demands.

Chief Inefficiency Officer. The efficiency of the enterprise is often tied to the efficiency of the IT capabilities underlying and supporting it. Maintaining the efficiency of the IT infrastructure is becoming a more demanding chore.

Six-nines availability requirements mean redundant, standby infrastructure, much of which remains unused until there’s a point of failure. Also becoming more problematic is building a computing infrastructure that can be highly efficient during low traffic but can quickly and economically scale to tens of thousands of simultaneous Web hits.

And, as simulation and predictive technologies continue to enter the mainstream for nearly every aspect of a business process, efficiency and ultraflexibility will prove exponentially harder to achieve.

New processes, tools, and techniques will be necessary to assist the CIO in answering the challenge of efficiency.

Although there’s some dispute as to the average life span of a CIO, it’s generally held to be in the neighborhood of 21-to-24 months. And it’s only slightly tongue in cheek that the acronym for CIO is “career is over.” To lengthen their service and increase their impact, CIOs of the future must be multidimensional—much more so than any other CXO position.

Not only must CIOs work at the strategy level, they must also understand and relate to the details. They must understand and preserve that which is optimally efficient, yet also muster the courage to find what could work better. Their role is part lawyer, technician, mediator, and change agent. They must be as much at home in the business environment as in the technical world.

No other position requires the executive to excel in so many capacities. And even if someone masters the many dimensions explained here, it’s safe to say that the future CIO should prepare to take on further additional, unexpected responsibilities. It’s the nature of the job.

Jeff Wacker is an EDS fellow. The title of EDS fellow is awarded to the company’s most innovative thought leaders in recognition of their exceptional achievements. Each fellow has a proven track record of creating world-class solutions for our clients. In addition to their academic achievements and invention history, the 29 Fellows average 24 years of industry experience and innovative technology implementations.