The Observer: The Many Roles Of A CIO - InformationWeek
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11/11/2004
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Lou Bertin
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The Observer: The Many Roles Of A CIO

Add seductress and supplicant to the business roles such as IT strategist that a CIO must take on to be successful, says Lou Bertin.

This one has a little bit of everything that makes for a good potboiler: intrigue, deception, seduction, tons of money at stake, selfless heroes and heroines, nasty foes who'll stop at nothing, including occasional sabotage, to have their way, and a lovely little moral at the end.

No, it's not a from-beyond-the-grave installment of the sort of thing Fletcher Knebel and Allen Drury used to do so well, it's InformationWeek's 25th Special Anniversary Report, with a few from-the-trenches assessments from you, our readers.

Most particularly, it's about the diagnoses, prescriptions, and prognoses offered so eloquently by Dr. James I. Cash and Dr. Keri E. Pearlson in a companion article "The Future CIO: Key Recommendations" to their insightful essay, "The Future CIO" and how the CIOs of my acquaintance are coping with life as Cash and Pearlson assess it and how those CIOs will be forced in some cases to contort themselves to conform to the authors' recommendations.

Those of you who read these scribblings regularly know that there's no way that I'm in a position to advise readers with anything approaching the status of the good Drs. Cash and Pearlson (besides, my friend Jim has me by about 10 inches and at least, er, a few pounds), so I won't even try. What I can do is pass along what your peers have been telling me about the state of the state, the realities of the job and the utter impossibility for some CIOs to ever structure their jobs so that their personal performance will conform to the impeccable model Cash and Pearlson offer.

Per Cash and Pearlson: "CIOs see themselves playing five primary roles: business strategist, IT strategist, IT functional leader, technology advocate and change agent." Amen and amen. If anything, Cash and Pearlson may have overlooked some of the other roles played by CIOs, those being--according to recent observations offered my way--seductress, spy, supplicant, and, occasionally, sycophant.

As for the seductress role, consider the recent musing of the mild-mannered CIO of a great metropolis. "There are times when I literally have to entice people to give things a try and once they get that first taste, they're hooked," she said. "I have to try to get them into the web before they'll commit. Sometimes, that means I have to turn off their existing services before they'll even pay attention, but I've learned that I have to lure them before I can get them to pay attention."

For a former state CIO, spying and stealth proved to be invaluable career-enhancing attributes as he strove to hew to Cash and Pearlson's imperative to establish "the right balance between fostering organizational change and exploiting IT's potential, on the one hand, and ensuring the discipline to produce reliable, bulletproof systems and infrastructure, on the other."

"I had to be sneaky," the former CIO admitted. "I had to have the tentacles out to get early intelligence on what were going to be the hot-button issues and I had to learn to, let's call it 'insinuate,' things into programs. I may not always have been explicit in terms of what was being done, but as long as the results were there, the sneakiness worked."

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