Archive for September 24th, 2007

Are CIOs just byte counters?

Monday, September 24th, 2007

I follow a fair amount of financial press as many of our customers are in that sector.  I was interested to see that the “IT vs the Business” argument rages in this sector like many others, and the future of the role of CIO is being questioned, likewise.

The arguments are summarised neatly by Chris Skinner in his finextra post Bankers are from Mercury, techies are from Uranus.  Chris sits firmly on the business side as you might expect from the title.  The arguments, though, are interesting.  The most alarming is that we have now been discussing the chasm between IT and the business for 25 years or more and where is the progress?

Despite taking the business angle, Chris does acknowledge that the business needs to take IT seriously and up their understanding of what IT can do.  But this doesn’t mean that business people need to understand SOA, how to code, what a network protocol is, or where the nearest server farm is.  It does mean that they should understand the power of social networking, wiki style collaboration, the power (and dangers) of software as a service, the use of the internet as a channel, the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing/offshoring vs technology solutions etc.

In this brave new world, according to Chris, the CIO role gets devalued and becomes the keeper of the nuts and bolts.  I think this would be a shame.  I hope the rumoured demise of the CIO role is premature.  All senior managers can read a P & L account and a Balance Sheet but that doesn’t remove the need for a CFO.  There is room on the board for expertise in all important disciplines and surely technology is one of the most important in most organisations?

Perhaps the onus is on the CIO to understand the business better?  Using my analogy above, CFOs need to understand the business.  The types of accountants known as bean counters do not make it to the board.  The IT equivalent is maybe someone obsessed with technology for its sake and not for what it can do for the business (a byte counter?).  Just as the responsibility is on the rest of the board to understand technology, so the CIO must understand the business.  I believe this will secure a valuable board level role for IT for as far ahead as I can see.