Is The Title CIO Still Viable -- Or Something Else? - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // CIO Insights & Innovation
Commentary
11/8/2007
08:13 PM
John Soat
John Soat
Commentary
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Is The Title CIO Still Viable -- Or Something Else?

"CIO is somewhat of a legacy term," says Ken Harris, senior VP and CIO of Shaklee Corp. "But that doesn't mean that the value that the CIO brings goes away."

"CIO is somewhat of a legacy term," says Ken Harris, senior VP and CIO of Shaklee Corp. "But that doesn't mean that the value that the CIO brings goes away." Shaklee is a nutritional supplement company in Pleasanton, Calif. Ken Harris has been senior VP and CIO since January 2005. Before that Harris was CIO of Gap, and before that CIO of Nike, so he knows whereof he speaks when it comes to the CIO job.

For one thing, the title is a little bit misleading, especially these days. "We're not just about information," he says.

Still, the long rumored demise of the CIO position may have been more than a little exaggerated, even with the best intentions. "I've been out talking for a long time about how the CIO job goes away as IT becomes more integral to the business," he says. But while both his CIO title and his job seem secure, his vision of IT and what it entails has clearly changed over the years. Harris is a true believer in software as a service (SaaS). He uses several online services, such as RightNow's CRM subscription service, both to replace legacy systems at Shaklee and to create new business processes.

That change in strategy may be what informs his view of the present -- and future -- of the CIO position. "In the past, the CIO was the guy who deals with the computers -- that's what changing more than anything else," he says. "These days people come in and know more about computers ... My 11-year-old son knows more about some things about computers than I do," Harris admits.

But that's not what's important for the CIO role in business today, and not what's important for his role at Shaklee. "We don't need somebody that handles the computers," he says. "We need somebody that's going to come up with what's the next big network idea."

Whether that falls in the lap of someone with the title CIO or something else, the responsibility is still the same. "The title itself is really irrelevant to me," Harris says. "I suspect if I wanted to, I could get it changed to something else."

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