Misunderstanding the CIO role

Following on from my last post about CIO recognition in the board room I was excited to discover that relevant coverage had reached the mainstream press, notably the venerable Financial Times.  An article by Alan Cane titled “It’s much too early to write off the role of the CIO” looked right on the sweet spot…..until I read it.

Mr Cane starts with a great point of debate about whether the CIO is the right person to align IT and business objectives.  Then he wanders around an argument that consigns the role of the CIO to the nuts and bolts of IT.  CIOs are responsible for data leaks, buying too many servers, not having a handle on software licences amongst other crimes.

Crimes they are indeed, and I am not arguing that CIOs shouldn’t be responsible for data security, physical infrastructure, and software licence control.  These are baselines; entry points for an IT function; administrative tasks.  But IT is not just about administration, it is about the very strategy of the organisation.  Where would Ebay, Amazon, or Facebook be without IT strategy?  Where would Barclays, RBS or HSBC be without technology at the very heart of their organisations?

IT should be an enabler for 99, if not 100% of organisations.  It is a profession and a discipline in its own right and its time has simply not come yet, in terms of board recognition at least.  So does the lack of a coherent understanding of the CIO role at board level come from the lack of great CIOs?  Or does it come from a lack of understanding of IT from the other board disciplines?  As the latest generation of tech savvy executives make it into the boardroom, I predict things will change.

Any company that gives something as important as IT to the Chief Financial Officer is in trouble.  The two professions are entirely different, Financial Accounting is about the past, whereas IT is about the future.  Both disciplines are essential but I truly believe that it is only a matter of time before the CIO >= the CFO.

The FT article concludes that CIOs should “concentrate on finding ways to use technology to expedite business change appropriate to today’s trading environment.  It’s a formula that should keep CIOs in business for years to come.”  I completely agree with Alan Cane on this point, but the other C level execs also bear a responsibility to recognise the potential, language, and role of IT, if organisations are to get the most from the newest profession.

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