New Role Needed: Business Information Officer - InformationWeek
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9/29/2014
10:06 AM
Peter High
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New Role Needed: Business Information Officer

Rather than take responsibilities away from the CIO, companies should create this new position to help the CIO cement strategic relationships with other divisions.

We've been hearing for decades that IT must "align with the business," that CIOs must form true partnerships with their peers in marketing, finance, HR, and other disciplines. So why do we continue to see new roles and titles emerging (chief digital officer, chief innovation officer, chief data officer, etc.) that co-opt part of the CIO's strategic responsibilities?

Here's the challenge for CIOs: While the average marketing or finance executive doesn't have to become an expert in a range of disciplines, the CIO is expected to develop a fluency in all of them. And this is too daunting a responsibility for any single individual.

Rather than take strategic responsibilities away from the CIO, companies should consider creating a new position -- or new class of positions -- that helps the CIO establish and cement a more strategic relationship with other divisional leaders. That position is business information officer, or BIO.

In my new book, Implementing World Class IT Strategy: How IT Can Drive Organizational Innovation, I profile a number of top CIOs who have done just that, typically appointing several BIOs who operate in concert. Among them are the CIOs of Best Buy, BJ's, Capital One, Kaiser Permanente, New York Life, PNC, SAP, Siemens, and World Fuel Services. Although each company has incorporated unique nuances into the role, there are common characteristics.

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BIOs tend to spend almost equal time working in and thinking about IT and the other division in which they're embedded. They often report to the CIO but have a dotted line into the head of the non-IT division. They participate in the strategy sessions of each.

If they come from the IT organization, they quickly acquire a working knowledge of the non-IT discipline to the point where they can ask questions and develop insights on a par with the leaders of those functions. That doesn't mean they have deeper expertise, but they tend to be autodidacts who learn quickly.

BIOs often come from the IT org, but they're just as likely to be tech-savvy leaders from outside of IT. Either way, they must be advocates of each department and discipline, with a deep understanding of IT's capabilities and the needs of the other division. They think creatively about how to push for new, innovative technology solutions, but they're keenly aware of re-using the company's embedded technologies wherever possible. They adhere to and drive standardization while remaining open to new investments where they're warranted. They retain the right to say no, but they're much more geared to say yes, or at least "yes, but..."

The BIO profile also includes:

  • A high-level of emotional intelligence, and an ability to work with and influence a diverse set of constituents
  • An ability to understand, reengineer, and at times run processes across an entire enterprise
  • A focus on speed to market
  • A sensitivity to the cultural norms of the IT organization and the other division in which they're partially embedded
  • Enough expertise to earn the respect of the business discipline's people and be able to push back
  • An ability to listen carefully and articulate a blueprint for the business and IT future-state

The main advantage of instituting the BIO role is that it brings IT into the conversation about needs and plans as they're conceived. BIOs must be able to help shape the conversation, push the non-IT division to prioritize, and ensure that the IT organizations doesn't develop a reputation for biting off more than it can chew.

The BIOs aligned with the different divisions should network regularly with one another to identify common needs as well as contradictory directions. They should also collaborate regularly with the enterprise architecture team, ensuring that new ideas are assessed within the context of business, data, application, and system architectures.

With growing responsibilities and escalating expectations placed upon CIOs, they need help, not a new C-level peer and turf battle. The BIO can be a critical role.

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Peter High is president of Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. High will provide a free video or teleconference lecture on his new book, Implementing World Class IT Strategy, to any team that buys 40 or more copies. He is also the author of World Class IT: Why ... View Full Bio
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nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
10/31/2014 | 12:21:17 AM
Re: direct reporitng line
@Li a very valid observation indeed. I feel that its better to do the to a person in company working under some related profile rather than creating a new position. Big companys can have that leverage to appoint new position but what about SMBs. Can they?
pcharles09
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pcharles09,
User Rank: Ninja
10/30/2014 | 10:57:18 PM
Re: direct reporitng line
@SaneIT,

I agree with you. I was at a company in the past where one guy constantly wanted us to have "better" titles. This thread reminded me of that. I would think enjoying your role would be more important day to day. I also understand loking out for future prospects.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
10/29/2014 | 7:21:31 AM
Re: direct reporitng line
@pcharles09, I guess that is part of my problem.  I don't worry about how something will look in my resume. I don't activly plan to leave jobs, some of them just run their course, I out grow them or the company itself hits a wall.  The way I look at it I'd rather have the title Director or Manager at a growing company where I have the freedom to drive technology than the title CIO at a company where growth and change are suffocated under the weight of process and tradition.
pcharles09
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pcharles09,
User Rank: Ninja
10/28/2014 | 8:01:02 PM
Re: direct reporitng line
@SaneIT,

I understand. Been there too. But most people like the title since it stands out more on a resume than the bullet points underneath.
pcharles09
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pcharles09,
User Rank: Ninja
10/28/2014 | 7:59:37 PM
Re: direct reporitng line
@batye,

The crazy part is that there's typically no continuity with what the new executives do. As expected, they usually do something drastic when they come into power to make their mark, which may or may not be good for the organization.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
10/4/2014 | 12:20:12 AM
Re: direct reporitng line
Anytime you create new, redundant positions, you're going to have internal strife, I think.

And holy bejeezus, it seems every week there are twenty new articles about what new C-Suite or near-C-Suite position your organization needs -- and it's been this way for years.

I'm waiting for someone to suggest a Chief Making Sure The Keys on Everyone's Keyboards Don't Stick Officer.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
10/4/2014 | 12:05:41 AM
Re: direct reporitng line
I think the critical thing is definiting neatly the job profile of this BIO. It's pretty sure that this new position would be more business inclined rather than technical oriented. But will such kind of business/technique division creates new conflict between BIO and CIO?
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
10/3/2014 | 3:56:17 PM
Re: direct reporitng line
@Alison: Yes!  Precisely one of the problems with all of these new title fads.  Many recruiters, unfortunately, tend to be (I believe as a matter of federal law) dull and unimaginative; if you don't fit a profile excruciatingly neatly, you get filtered into the circular file.

SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
10/2/2014 | 7:14:41 AM
Re: direct reporitng line
@Alison_Diana, yes, if I decided to leave that is exactly how I would approach it.  I've held positions in large companies where I had a local studio title and a global title so there were some funny moments when people would ask why I kept changing jobs.    At the end of the day I'm performing the functions of CIO, I'm just not in an organization that wants a position on their org chart that says CIO.  I think that most savvy HR professionals understand that titles are not a one to one match across companies.
batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
10/1/2014 | 11:49:31 AM
Re: direct reporitng line
@Alison_Diana, interesting point... it seems like everything changes in corporate world over night... with titles and...
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