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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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jkupersmith300
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jkupersmith300,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/30/2014 | 9:02:03 AM
Re: How to justify?
I agree about ROI.  This seems like another layer that is not necessary.  There are individuals if used properly that are doing this or can be doing this.  The ones doing business analysis well within organizations collectively play this role.  
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
9/30/2014 | 7:39:00 AM
Re: direct reporitng line
I think pcharles09 and nasimson are on the right track.  At some point adding another officer doesn't do much more than muddy the water.  The function of a BIO will make sense in many companies but is it a singular position or is it a set of skills that should exist across your current C-level?   It seems like we're entering an age where everyone needs a title to be proud of and the actual function is secondary.  Personally I would rather see people talking about the skills that a company needs not the title they need to assign someone.
pcharles09
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pcharles09,
User Rank: Ninja
9/29/2014 | 11:41:43 PM
Re: direct reporitng line
@nasimson,

You'd be surprised how many small organizations I've seen (<50 people) that have a 10 person CxO board. Why, you ask? I think it's to delegate more & give opportunities to people you like... as CEO.
nasimson
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nasimson,
User Rank: Ninja
9/29/2014 | 10:47:46 PM
direct reporitng line
CTO, CIO, CMO, CHRO, CFO, CAO, CCO .. how broad can the CEO reporting line be stretched. I am not a CEO, but any number beyond the magical number of seven gets too big to manage as direct reporting line.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
9/29/2014 | 9:02:48 PM
Re: Business Information Officer
I definitely hear both sides of the discussion on this one. We do hear a lot about the eroding power of the CIO and how IT just can't keep up with the business' needs, even with all their new methodologies and all the horsepower at their fingertips. Moreover, I see Peter's point about how diminishing IT's power in the company is the wrong way to go about this. After all, what the business needs is never wrong... but it should restructure it's departments to suit it's needs, not step on it's own feet until it makes something unrecognizable.

But I see what you guys here in the comments are getting at, too. "There are no silver bullets" is a common mantra in IT, and this solution can't be thought of as one either. If an organization already has seperate 'digital' officers, or already has marketing in charge of some of their IT resources, then adding positions like these is only going to increase the clutter. They also may no make sense for lots of companies - it depends if they have the size to support extra positions, and the need for this kind of flexability. Peter is right to point out that sprawling, spread-out companies stand to gain the most from this approach.

 
Sacalpha1
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Sacalpha1,
User Rank: Moderator
9/29/2014 | 6:22:07 PM
Nothing New
The role discussed in this article is nothing new.  It is just a slight repackaging of a divisional CIO role or BRM role which has been common in organizations for at least 10 to 15 years.  Frankly, I don't see the need to create another "officer" level position.  It will tend to create more confusion at the executive leadership table than the amount of benefit it might bring.  The corporate CIO along with his or her peers should comprise the leadership team, period.  Senior (probably VP level) roles reporting to the CIO should be embedded within divisions or functions to ensure relationship management, IT strategy, and demand and portfolio management are properly executed and governed with leadership in these organizational groups (assuming of course this is the right model for the organization; there are other valid models as well).


And the comment about it being too difficult and expecting too much for CIOs to have broad business acumen is a bunch of hooey.  You can develop strong acumen across a broad range of business functions.  I know because I have done it.  If the person in the CIO role does not have this and can't develop it, then they should be replaced.  If the candidate for the role does not have it to begin with, they should not be considered for the role.  It's a requirement and is needed.  Get over it.  And the way to address this is not by creating more executive roles.  The resolution is to put the right person in the right role to begin with!


And finally, the business acumen issue is typically not about the CIO lacking broader business skills, especially in larger organizations where the model in this article may apply.  The real issue is that the leadership of the other functions are unwilling to listen to input from people outside of their organization or from people who did not grow up in their organization.  A CIO can have the best business acumen in the world and can often times offer a great external perspective on how to resolve business problems or how to improve a business process, but he is often ignored or even ridiculed. 

There are too many books and papers discussing how to fix the "IT problem" by changing IT or it's leadership.  While there are certainly things that IT can do to improve, much of the improvement today hat is needed to "fix IT" is a change in the behaviors of business leadership.  It starts with the CEO sponsoring a culture of respect and true collaboration amongst the business functions including IT.  Ideas, improvements and problem resolutions can come from any group including IT....not just from the organization owning the process or problem.  Next, the CIO should always report to the CEO. No more IT being part of finance.  It belittles IT and makes IT a cost center.  Third, no more IT decisions made without IT.  Make it a firing offense for any business function to acquire technology without consulting IT (notice I said consult; IT may let some functions do things on their own with the right business case, risk profile, etc).  No more shadow IT groups either.  What goes on today is akin to every business function going out and having their own separate procurement and A/P processes and issuing their own checks for expenditures.  Finance would have a fit if a division or function even brought this up today, much less went out and did it.  But it's generally accepted that a group can go out and buy it's own technology with few reprecussions just because they need it fast and think they are a bunch of experts because they can go out and buy a smart phone or PC for the home.
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
9/29/2014 | 12:10:15 PM
Re: How to justify?
You have a very valid point. While increasing the no of "C" Level staff what is the ROI for the organization? It is always important to check for ROI before defining any new roles. 
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
9/29/2014 | 12:07:30 PM
Re: How to justify?
BIO profile should link with the strategic vision such as new technology / business reengineering and process improvements. 
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
9/29/2014 | 12:07:01 PM
Re: How to justify?
This is an interesting article which matches the current context. However I feel CIO's does not believe in their subordinates and does not delegate work. This has made them to be busy throughout.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
9/29/2014 | 10:49:13 AM
How to justify?
This role seems like a "nice to have" -- definitely beneficial, but something of a luxury. Presumably these people will be close to C-level in terms of salary. How would you recommend a CIO start to make the case that this role is worthwhile? What's in the ROI spreadsheet?
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