The Less Visible CIO: A (Software) CEO's Perspective

Consolidation has turned the CIO into a fixed-cost expense. But there are tools that can provide the right kind of information to turn the CIO back into an innovation asset, says a software CEO.

John Soat, Contributor

October 4, 2007

4 Min Read

Consolidation has turned the CIO into a fixed-cost expense. But there are tools that can provide the right kind of information to turn the CIO back into an innovation asset, says a software CEO. Jeremy Burton is the president and CEO of Serena Software, a company that markets change-management software. I've known Burton for several years, since his days at Oracle and Veritas. Burton recently replied by e-mail to a series of blogs by myself and my colleague Bob Evans about the changing nature of the CIO role. And while Burton's message could be seen as a not-so-subtle plug for his company's software, there are some very valid points about the need for CIOs to be more on top of what's driving the innovation engine (or not) in IT and in their businesses.

Here's what Burton wrote:

"I've worked on exec teams at large companies for the last ten years or so and seen the high's and low's of a CIO's life. I've been the business guy with his own shadow IT organization and I've sat on IT governance committee's to approve and review projects . . . and now I'm the CEO trying to figure out the right place for IT in my new company. "CIO's are less visible these days for several reasons (in my opinion):

For the last six or seven years IT, in most corporations, has been managed for cost. We've consolidated our servers, storage, databases, applications, mail servers, and data centers. It's been a pure play of driving more efficiency… doing more with less. Innovation has taken a back seat. Who better than the CFO to make sure this happens? Most CIO's have found themselves being G&A'd -- a fixed cost to the business but providing no differentiation to the business. CIO's, in general, have a hard time explaining what the demand is, what the priorities are, and what the progress is. Ironically, the guy on the exec team who has the least information about his or her business is the Chief Information Officer. That's particularly bad as the CFO (who the CIO often works for, see above) has been looking at SAS, Hyperion, or Business Objects and getting (near) real-time information out of the ERP system. Even the head of sales (often the laughing stock of the exec team when it comes to information) now has In the last five years I've sat through at least three CIO reviews of IT projects that consist of an Excel spreadsheet with 6-point fonts and thousands of line items. Twenty minutes in to the meeting everyone has two largest fingers pointed at their temples, shouting "shoot me, or shoot him/her". This has to change, there needs to be a shakedown in the systems the CIO uses. Not in the data center -- the data center ops guys have been through the wringer in the last six or seven years (see my first point) and actually have pretty good data on uptime, utilization, etc. It's the App Dev guys who are a nightmare -- 10 systems to gather requirements, five to manage source code, six to test, eight to track defects, nine to track enhancements -- the data is fragmented because the systems are picked by the programmers. The sys admins used to do the same in the data center until we saw sense and consolidated. Ninety-five percent of IT dollars go on the biggest, complex, mission critical apps. There is no strategy to attack the "long tail." The simple apps in the "long tail" may not be game changers individually, but taken as a whole they add up to a whole bunch of productivity for the business. CIO's don't take the short-term quick wins, they often focus on the big bangs… worse, the big bang for the last few years has been "implement SAP or Oracle." Great, we can now hire people, pay them, close our books, and raise requisitions... in fact, everything we could do before but now online. These systems don't differentiate, they simply give you what everyone else has. If IT spent a bit more time getting the quick wins, they'd build more respect with their business peers and get a little bit more support in the executive staff meeting. The "Great IT centralization" of the last decade has reduced cost but become less flexible, less innovative, and less responsive to the business."

That's it. Does Burton have a point, or is he simply trying to sell software? Are there tools out there (whether Serena Software's or others) that can help the CIO stay on top of what's happening in terms of application development and innovation? Let us know what you think.

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