Will CDO Steal CIO's Leadership Role? - InformationWeek
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06:15 PM

Will CDO Steal CIO's Leadership Role?

Nicholas Carr was wrong; IT does matter. But the tech that matters most now is data, leading to a possible leadership coup by chief data officers and chief digital officers.

Asking whether CIOs have a future isn't a new question. Nicholas Carr in 2003 famously challenged whether we needed IT at all. He compared IT to the spread of electric power: at some point, it becomes a commodity that gives no competitive advantage. The CIO is thus in the same lights-out position as those early CEOs (chief electricity officers).

Ten years later there are still plenty of CIOs, and global IT spending is supposed to rise to $3.7 trillion this year. Carr was wrong, then; CIOs are safe.

Not really.

Technology is everywhere, and the speed of change overwhelms most of us. Many companies have responded by moving to BYOD and cloud computing. That's not IT as a specialized, important function that gives businesses a better way of doing things. That's people being their own CIOs. Want more proof? Some think that this year, CMOs will spend more on tech than CIOs.

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Meanwhile, companies are hiring CDOs -- chief digital officers -- people who often do not come from a traditional IT background. There is also another kind of CDO, the chief data officer. DHR, a big recruiter, just released a white paper, "The Emergence of the Chief Data Officer," arguing that the chief data officer is to today what the CIO was in the 1980s: a job on the rise. In fact, the seventh annual CDO conference took place earlier this year at (where else?) MIT. Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve hired a chief digital officer, too.

Here's where Carr might have been wrong about IT. Both types of CDOs -- chief digital officers and chief data officers -- exist because new technologies do matter, at least right now. I have a wonkier life where I write about management trends for MIT Sloan Management Review, and some of the research I've covered finds a strong correlation between successfully adopting new technologies and financial performance at companies.

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But technologies that let consumers just flip the switch don't require CIOs. As DHR's Adam Charlson argued, "most CIOs and CTOs do not possess the knowledge and experience to guide a big data program, and most do not have the bandwidth to cultivate and champion a data-driven culture."

Data is information. These early chief data officers could be like chief information security officers, people who typically report up to a CIO. But nearly 80% of the companies surveyed by Data Blueprint, a consulting firm, said a chief data officer should report to the business side, not IT. Data Blueprint's Peter Aiken argued that the pace of technological change means CIOs must center on integrating old and new technologies, an increasingly complex job.

Aiken wrote, "Organizations increasingly recognize … that the strategy and management of data needs to be de-coupled from technology. Forward-thinking, leading-edge organizations are aware of this and have instituted the CDO role."

Sounds like a death knell for the C-level CIO.

Companies still need specialists for IT projects, just like companies still hire electricians or install generators. But nobody looks to the electrician to drive strategy. Both types of CDOs represent jobs specifically created to translate the fruits of technology into a language that business people understand.

CIOs who can help their companies understand the impact of waves of new technologies will still matter. CIOs who cannot will find themselves consigned to be the equivalent of digital facilities managers.

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User Rank: Apprentice
10/7/2013 | 10:33:41 AM
re: Will CDO Steal CIO's Leadership Role?
Great article for stirring debate and conversations we need to have. That said, I donG«÷t agree. If the Chief Information Officer is really doing his job he is covering those cutting edge things about how information, not data, is used. Sounds like
we are coming up with work arounds for CIOG«÷s being too focused on the
technology (because they grew up in IT and that is what they understand) and
not enough on the big picture.

I have similar thoughts on
whether the CIO/CDO reports to G«£businessG«• or directly to the CEOG«™ who I thought
represented the business? He had better or their wonG«÷t be any. My
observations of the resubordination of those functions away from the senior
leadership/C suite team is that this is again covering for a failure in
leadership and ultimately causes more problems than it fixes. You need that CIO with a seat at the table for
balance. Business Operations guys feel like ultimately they know it all,
but can be subject to the same blinders that you are proclaiming CIO to have
coming from their area of expertise. A lot of times they donG«÷t appreciate
issues of strategic interest to the company as they relate to IT and information. It is
important to balance.

Information Technology in the
truest sense of the word is going to be advancing at a tremendous rate and will
be more, not less, important in the future of every company. I feel very
strongly that calls for making it a commodity, like electricity, are fraught
with peril. Ultimately it is a LOT more complicated than
electricity. Not only is it more complicated but getting information
superiority wrong can kill companies, has killed companies, and will
increasingly kill companies in the global market place. Specifically I am
thinking about Nortel, hacking, and cyber security. You cannot
commoditize things that dynamic which can allow a competitor to kill your
User Rank: Apprentice
10/6/2013 | 5:32:36 AM
re: Will CDO Steal CIO's Leadership Role?
The basic operations of an enterprise -- production, finance and marketing remain unchanged, the new -- CIO/CDO -- fit under one of these...
User Rank: Apprentice
10/5/2013 | 11:03:44 PM
re: Will CDO Steal CIO's Leadership Role?
Of course my real fear is that my job will be usurped by the company C3PO. @Laurianne you forgot CISO, CEDO, CXO, CNTO, and probably others.
The reality is that titles are only important to HR departments looking at resumes. And non-technical Journalists.
Petar Zivovic
Petar Zivovic,
User Rank: Strategist
10/4/2013 | 8:56:59 PM
re: Will CDO Steal CIO's Leadership Role?
Mike hit the nail on the head here.
It's the Chief "X" Officer: "X" meaning Information, Innovation, Technology, Data, Digital, or whatever the latest label makes sense. The titles mean slightly different things, but it all comes down to one basic thing: who will oversee how your company in particular can leverage the information at its disposal to the fullest? That is what the business needs.
20 years ago it was building out the Ethernet infrastructure and staging Servers and Workstations to share access to that information. Now we see tablets connecting into the cloud for that information, and incidentally not dissimilar to TVs with antennas connecting into A/C outlet plugs to receive transmissions. The difference is it's interactive. Carr wasn't wrong, just incomplete, which is how he upset the IT community (including myself) - by apparently marginalizing it. What he didn't see was the evolving role of IT with the infrastructure part becoming commoditized. IT isn't becoming obsolete, it's evolving into something that can drive the business if applied correctly and in tandem with the business lines.
The challenge is ensuring we in IT management are moving in that direction, and that our CEOs see us as moving that way. Otherwise we risk going the way of Blackberry - staying in our comfort zone too long and realizing too late that we missed our chance to improve on our contributions. For example, back in 2008, the idea was brought forth at my company to use smartphones. We didn't say no - we said not yet. Since then the security options we were waiting for (a must for any financial institution) have become available. Our smartphone phase-in is 90% complete. The users love it. We keep our jobs because we continue to deliver what's needed and wanted at the company - faster, better, cheaper access to information both our own and others' so we all can get our jobs done.
Nathan Golia
Nathan Golia,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/4/2013 | 7:48:32 PM
re: Will CDO Steal CIO's Leadership Role?
The fad concept is interesting. But we've got a blank slate right now in many ways. As integrated as mobile technology is in our lives now, for example, how many enterprises have a "chief mobile officer?" What would such a person do? Would it sound gimmicky? Sure, initially, but you could just as easily say that mobility is the new dominant form factor for computing and we could be in for 20-30 years of mobile screens being primary like we just exited the PC age. It certainly seems important enough to have a dedicated C-level exec.
User Rank: Strategist
10/4/2013 | 4:59:19 PM
re: Will CDO Steal CIO's Leadership Role?
I think technology is again ruling the perspective here and not in a good way. What we need to do is look at the role from a business perspective ie. business architecture. What are the key business deliverables of the area of responsibility that you are looking at and then the alignment with the underlying technology environment. In most cases I would suggest the alignment is best captured by a CIO - Chief Innovation Officer. The role needs a strong background in business and technology so as to leverage technology from an innovation perspective. The key change in focus is more around how to guide/align the business structure and culture in leveraging technology rather than technology running the business.
User Rank: Black Belt
10/4/2013 | 9:23:43 AM
re: Will CDO Steal CIO's Leadership Role?
The casual reference by a Gartner analyst about CMO outspending CIO has become a bible these days. Everyone keeps on quoting that or something similar. The title of CIO's post may change but not the importance. They used to be called something else 20 years earlier they will be called something else 20 years from now. How does that matter? Challenge is how a CIO will transform its understanding and capability to become a business enabler than a technology provider. Though business always hold IT as an excuse for their poor performance but that will not change anytime soon. More than technology its the organizational dynamics (cynically politics, turf control) that will spell doom for companies not adopting the newer wave of technology.
Michael Fitzgerald
Michael Fitzgerald,
User Rank: Moderator
10/3/2013 | 7:14:12 PM
re: Will CDO Steal CIO's Leadership Role?
Your thesis could play out exactly. It could also be that one or both of these new CDOs represent fads. I suspect we will see companies where there is a phalanx of digital/information C-level executives, but others will move away from a traditional CIO.
User Rank: Author
10/3/2013 | 5:43:59 PM
re: Will CDO Steal CIO's Leadership Role?
So this theory proposes the CMO and CDO become the CEO's important new best friends and the CIO is left keeping the lights on? I agree Chief Data Officer may be a title on the rise -- for good reason -- but must that position be superior to the CIO? I don't see why.

The many CIOs already driving line-of-business innovation are not going anywhere. Perhaps the CDO and CIO work together for the CEO, much as the CIO and CSO do. And speaking of CSOs, CDOs can't give CEOs the whole range of necessary security expertise. What do you think, IT leaders? Chime in.
Nathan Golia
Nathan Golia,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/3/2013 | 4:02:42 PM
re: Will CDO Steal CIO's Leadership Role?
All these new C-level tech positions simply underline the fact that all business is digital at this point in history. Companies must divide powers as needed to make sure they're effectively leveraging the vast ecosystem of tech. Digital/Information/Infosec officers can clearly find enough to do while not necessarily ceding ground in terms of ownership of the technology infrastructure at an organization.
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