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.

Cloud Connect (September 29 to October 2, 2014) brings its "cloud-as–business–enabler" programming to Interop New York for the first time in 2014. The two-day Cloud Connect Summit will give Interop attendees an intensive immersion in how to leverage the cloud to drive innovation and growth for their business. In addition to the Summit, Interop will feature five cloud workshops programmed by Cloud Connect. The Interop Expo will also feature a Cloud Connect Zone showcasing cloud companies' technology solutions. Register with Discount Code MPIWK or $200 off Total Access or Cloud Connect Summit Passes.

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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Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
10/1/2014 | 10:24:04 AM
Re: direct reporitng line
@SaneIT: If you apply for a CIO position at another organization, how will you explain why you are qualified when you don't have this title now? Will you simply point out the responsibilities you carry today and demonstrate that you are the de facto CIO?
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
10/1/2014 | 7:23:17 AM
Re: direct reporitng line
@pcharles09,

If it makes you feel better I'm the closest thing to a CIO the company I work for has ever seen, but there is resistance to give someone such a lofty title.  Does that stop me from functioning in that role? No.  I still need that skillset, I still have to perform those duties, I just don't have those letters grouped together on my business cards.  The bigger plan should not be adding titles but adding skills.  I don't care if the CFO or the janitor is  the one with your BIO skills, they just need to be there.

 
batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
10/1/2014 | 12:40:17 AM
Re: How to justify?
@progman2000 interesting point, but also we should not overlook office politics and it play with the names :)
batye
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50%
batye,
User Rank: Ninja
10/1/2014 | 12:38:57 AM
Re: direct reporitng line
could not agree more things do change rapidly in corporate board rooms... 
pcharles09
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pcharles09,
User Rank: Ninja
9/30/2014 | 11:33:57 PM
Re: direct reporitng line
@shamika,

You're right. What ever happened to simply President, VP, etc. Now there's a Chief of everything. We're in the era of delegation.
pcharles09
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pcharles09,
User Rank: Ninja
9/30/2014 | 11:32:40 PM
Re: direct reporitng line
@SaneIT,

I agree 100% Maybe it's because I'm not a CxO myself with pride available to be damaged. But it would make sense that they'd see the forest through the trees & do what's best for the company: Making sure it stays alive, not who else can help by doing a few specific 'executive skills'.
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
9/30/2014 | 11:32:03 AM
Re: How to justify?
My thoughts exactly.  I am somewhat averse to creating C-level positions because of the C-level bloat I have seen in the past that has managed to sabotage companies I've worked for.
shamika
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50%
shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
9/30/2014 | 11:27:29 AM
Re: Business Information Officer
@zerox203, I agree with you. The most important aspect will be to increase the effeicny of the IT department and serve the business needs.
shamika
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50%
shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
9/30/2014 | 11:24:54 AM
Re: direct reporitng line
@pcharles09, I think it's a waste of time and money. If we can get a layer called AVP who reports to CIO it would be much better.
shamika
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50%
shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
9/30/2014 | 11:22:29 AM
Re: Nothing New
@ Sacalpha1, I agree with you, however we can't focus on the senior management team who reports to CIO. It will be grooming for them.
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