Defining The Office Of The CIO

An industry vet and an analyst explain how this office could make IT more visible and companies more competitive.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

December 4, 2003

4 Min Read

From decades as a business-technology executive, Darwin John has realized that the most successful technology organizations are ones in which the leaders work collaboratively to achieve their goals. The former CIO at Scott Paper, the Mormon Church, and most recently the FBI has concluded that in large enterprises the CIO can't know it all or do it all. In today's rapidly changing business environment, it's nearly impossible for a single person to be the business sage, the erudite technical wiz, and the hands-on operations overseer.

John proposes a four-person office of the CIO, which would consist of the CIO, a chief technology officer, a chief operating officer (not to be confused with the corporate chief operating officer), and a project-management chief. The CTO, chief operating officer, and project-management boss bring diversity and expertise that would free the CIO to work more closely with business chieftains, including the CEO.

It's important that the CIO office be formalized, John says. Otherwise, it would reflect the whims of the incumbent rather than the needs of the business, he says. In his vision, the CTO tracks emerging technologies, orchestrates enterprise architecture, and gathers the technology requirements of the organization. The chief operating officer is the hands-on person overseeing the day-to-day operations of the technology department, including managing personnel and technology budgeting. The project manager makes sure that projects meet deadlines and stay within budget. In smaller organizations, the chief operating officer and project-management chief could be the same person.

Beyond their separate responsibilities, the four executives develop technology policy by consensus. "Conceptually, it's a team idea," says John, now a strategic adviser to Blackwell Consulting Services. "You have a set of people focus on a common cause and looking at common good. They're not in competition. They succeed or not as a team."

The CIO is the catalyst, the integration point, and the facilitator of the group, using his or her skills to reach consensus, not dictate technology policy. Only if agreement can't be reach would the CIO decree policy. The corporate culture defines how consensus is built. The foursome needn't hold frequent meetings; they can communicate by other means such as E-mail. "Defining a process as a set of meetings is a cop-out--you can waste a lot of time in meetings," John says.

Most companies have been very reliant on technology to function, more than most senior leaders appreciate, John says. "We're not yet realizing what we can get from IT in most enterprises," he says. "This new model positions us in a way to dramatically increase our chances to realize full value to the enterprise from the technology available to us."

There's a misconception in our culture of the power and influence of a single leader, he adds. "When things go real well, I get too much credit," John says. "When they go bad, I get too much blame. In reality, most successes are the result of set of people--a team--working together."

Any success John has experienced he credits to the people he surrounded himself with. Great leaders surround themselves with people smarter than themselves, then stay out of their way, he says. "People all have gifts, strengths, and capabilities," he says. "It's just a matter of matching them."

Another person giving much thought to the office of the CIO is Jonathan Poe, senior VP for executive directions at Meta Group. While John's vision is of a collaborative entity aimed at developing a consensus, Poe's view is a team to provide the necessary knowledge for the CIO to make the decision. Since CIOs are held responsible for the successes and failures of technology, Poe says, they--and not their teams--should make the final decisions. "CEOs want a single throat to choke if things go wrong," Poe says. Still, the office of the CIO provides them with the know-how to make those decisions. "IT is a very collaborative profession, so it's important talk about messaging and perceptions" among CIO office members, he says.

Poe's office of the CIO includes not just a CTO, a chief administrator, and a project-management leader, but others with expertise in human resources, leasing, law, and even communications. The message the technology department sends to the rest of the company must be consistent for the business to function efficiently. "When the message is inconsistent, that's when customers pull us apart," he says.

He, too, believes the CIO office should be formally adopted by the company to send the message that technology will be accountable. Indeed, he says, technology should brand itself, and the CIO office helps achieve that objective. If others in a company have a positive attitude about technology, more money will likely be spent on it than in other areas of the enterprise. Senior business executives would see technology as being strategic.

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