Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
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9/11/2007
04:16 PM
Bob Evans
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Are CIOs Disappearing (Part II)? If They Don't Master Business Value, The Answer Is 'Yes'

Readers offer various explanations to the question we first posed last week, but the central theme is that too many CIOs remain overly focused on IT arcana rather than revenue growth, customer loyalty, and competitive advantage. Join the discussion.

Readers offer various explanations to the question we first posed last week, but the central theme is that too many CIOs remain overly focused on IT arcana rather than revenue growth, customer loyalty, and competitive advantage. Join the discussion.Some say companies don't list their CIOs on their public Web sites so as to thwart cold-callers from IT vendors. Yeah, maybe, but there sure are a heckuva lot of other execs listed, of just about any stripe you can think of -- don't they buy anything that would have cold-callers pursuing them? That one doesn't hold water.

Some say it's because CEOs are greedy, blind, ignorant, or all of the above. That is no doubt a comforting rationale for IT professionals who feel they've gotten the wrong end of the stick, but again, I'm not buying it as a well-grounded explanation.

One reader said the CIO and CTO jobs are morphing into a new type of role centered on governance, which will lead to the emergence of a new role -- chief governance officer -- that displaces the CIO and CTO. Intriguing idea, but I'm not gonna bet on that one, either.

The answer that makes most sense to me is that many IT execs, while excelling within the technology side of their positions, have not aggressively mastered business issues, strategy issues, and customer issues.

As 'Jay in Baton Rouge' puts it: "As I look back in retrospect at my former position, I can see that I didn't have the skills and experience to do what my former directors needed -- translate the technology needs into business terms that they could understand.... I think there needs to be more training -- and maybe it's already there in the master's programs of the world, but I haven't seen evidence of it -- for technologists who need to be able to do this translation. That's where IT managers' credibility will come from."

'Middle Man' says that the shift is coming from the other direction: mainstream businesspeople are becoming more technically savvy, thereby reducing the need for IT involvement in all things technical: "I think that this is happening because technology is getting more user friendly and business side users/management are becoming more technologicaly savy. I have seen at my company where business managers have programming staff report directly to them. They and their staff sometimes work with IT to come up with solutions that fit the business and sometimes work independent of IT on solutions, depending on the systems needed in the solution. Going in this direction reduces the need for hierarchal management in IT -- perhaps this is the reason for the trend."

'Guest' says IT folks are trying to communicate in the right ways, but the blockheads in management won't/can't listen: "One thing I have learned working in the IT field for nearly 12 years is that you must identify the failure before it happens, present the worst-case scenario from the start and offer a viable solution that's not only effective at preventing the problem, but is effective in budgetary concerns. If the worst case is not presented, it will never be realized to the appropriate level."

'Nick R.' says it's a failure to communicate: "...If IT cannot deliver value to the business, it will not get much attention. If there is true value (to the business) and the CIO cannot communicate that value, she or he simply failed as an executive. Why would anyone believe that writing Java code is good executive preparation? And why would I put much faith in the evaluation of executive management when it is made by someone whose primary skills and interest are in programming?"

And perhaps most provocative of all are these comments from 'Retired Fortune 50 CIO' who hammers home the critical shortcoming of misplaced priorities: "Most CIO's are so technology focused (at the expense of driving business change) they don't deserve to be listed as part of the executive team. They block business-driven solutions and spend their time doing 5 year SAP upgrades and declaring victory. So the business integrates IT planning and decision making into their own groups and uses the CIO's group just as a tactical implementation and infrastructure group. Just look how many CIO's now report back under the CFO, the bean counter. The number of top-shelf CIO's who report directly to the CEO as part of the executive committee (as I did) is embarrassing now."

What do you think?

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