Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
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7/30/2009
12:30 PM
Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Down To Business: Are Some CIOs Wearing Too Many Hats?

There's no right or wrong approach to setting CIOs' responsibilities, but anecdotal evidence suggests we could be stretching them too thin.

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Rob PrestonA trend among U.S. companies is to give their CIOs marching orders outside the mainstream IT organization, charging them with overseeing the supply chain, for instance, or spearheading something less tangible like innovation or customer management. The thinking: If CIOs (and their organizations) are to really engage with internal business operations and, more important, with partners and customers, they must take on formal responsibilities outside their core technology domain.

That approach makes a lot of intuitive sense, but how many hats are too many? At Harrah's Entertainment, former CIO Tim Stanley (InformationWeek's 2007 Chief of the Year) ended up running four separate units: gaming at about 50 casinos in three countries; a 12-person innovation team; a startup tasked with licensing the features of the Harrah's customer-loyalty program; and the 600-employee IT organization. Stanley stepped down in January, citing personal and professional reasons, and one wonders if a contributing factor was that he was spread too thin at a time when Harrah's was under intense financial pressure. It's notable that Harrah's named two people to assume his former duties.

Cardinal Health, in announcing last week that Jody Davids is leaving as CIO, said her successor, former Motorola CIO Patricia Morrison, would not be overseeing the shared services that cut across finance, HR, procurement, and IT, an area Davids had run as executive VP. Earlier this year, when Davids first said she would be leaving Cardinal Health, she indicated that the shared-services role pulled her into too much internal, administrative minutia and didn't leave enough time for business- and customer-oriented projects. And at Davids' recommendation, Morrison will report to CEO George Barrett; Davids had reported to the CFO.

One school of thought is that the CIO and other business technology executive positions are full-time jobs in themselves. Additional duties, especially when they entail profit and loss responsibility, can be an enormous distraction from a job that's already tortuously complex. CIOs shouldn't be managing new products or overseeing non-IT operations in their spare time any more than the CFO should be running sales. Or so goes the counterargument.

The best CIOs, of course, have their hands in every aspect of the business, regardless of whether those responsibilities have been etched into their title. Some of the best CIOs draw on their experience in line-of-business positions, whether in sales, marketing, HR, customer service, or product development. For example, General Motors' newly appointed CIO, Terry Kline, is a technologist with serious product development chops, having previously coordinated process reengineering and deployed information systems to support product development across GM's units. Other CIOs come to that position from outside the IT organization. Anheuser-Busch's Joseph Castellano, for example, was tapped as CIO in 2007 because of his broad, 24-year functional experience at the company, including stints in HR, retail marketing, and operations

Clearly, there's no right or wrong approach to setting CIO responsibilities. Experience and aptitude are critical factors, as are the company's priorities at the time. Stanley, whose Harrah's tenure was marked by hypergrowth, had more of an entrepreneurial background than his main successor, CTO Katrina Lane, who as a physicist and analytics expert is a more hard-core technologist. Harrah's played to their strengths.

What do you think is the optimal pedigree and job description for a CIO? We'd love to hear--and share--the most compelling examples.

Rob Preston,
VP and Editor in Chief
rpreston@techweb.com

To find out more about Rob Preston, please visit his page.

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