The Multidimensional CIO

The identity of the world’s first CIO has likely been lost to history. But you can bet as soon as the position was filled, the newly minted CIO grasped the significance of the clause “… and other duties as assigned.”

The companies that appointed those first CIOs in the late 1970s couldn’t have envisioned the demanding, multiple responsibilities into which the position has evolved. Mostly technicians, the first CIOs approached their jobs from a technical perspective: Optimize the acquisition, integration, and application of information technology.

But as the role continues to gain prominence and value in the enterprise, the multiple dimensions of the job—in increasingly complex business and technology environments—are truly becoming daunting.

In case anyone doubts this, here are just a few of the many dimensions required for the successful CIO.

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Chief Integration Officer. Generations of single-viewpoint decisions—a.k.a., silos of legacy systems—have created an integration nightmare in most enterprises. Each operational silo is continually demanding a singular set of solutions it considers ideal. But the CIO must take an enterprise perspective of the situation that will inevitably mean compromise at the division level.

There’s no other executive position that requires this type of integration ability. Only CIOs need to be integrator and mediator when IT decisions are made.

The difficulty of this dual role is compounded in several ways. First, applications are moving closer to end users. The iterative nature of service-oriented architecture (SOA) is demanding strong business-level—not just technical-level—integration. And next-generation technology will make apps even more integral to the everyday fabric of the business, upping the integration ante again.

Second, IT sourcing models are changing as the need to vary IT components increases and new models for managing spikes in resource requirements become viable. This will require the CIO to integrate business requirements with service delivery, and service delivery with external resources in a more complex arrangement.

Third, the complexity of integration will permeate the broad trans-enterprise value net—business interaction across multiple entities—rather than just within the supply/customer chain or inter-enterprise.

The need for a deeper connection with the supplier’s suppliers and the customer’s customers in order to provide predictive content will require legal, business, and technical integration on an unprecedented level.

All these new challenges will be formidable—and the CIO will be situated squarely in the middle.

Chief Innovation Officer. Much has been said about the accelerated pace of change and the ascension of India and China. We know that innovation is coming from all directions and sources—and in an environment of increasing change, it must be understood, cultivated, and managed.

A recent Time magazine article noted that while most innovation in the past was generated by a “small, shadowy elite,” conditions are now allowing for “open-source innovation,” where virtually anyone with Internet access can come up with and act upon the next big thing.

The Web has created the perfect climate for new ideas to come to mind as well as fruition. Much of this innovation will be business-based, but most will be enabled by, and dependent on, the differentiated use of IT.

Some businesses have already created a position with the title of chief innovation officer. Whether that’s the case or not, though, the person now known as the CIO will be a key player in cultivating, implementing and explaining innovation.