Redefining the 'I' in CIO - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership

Redefining the 'I' in CIO

The 30-plus year old job title "CIO" is opening up a number of new possibilities when it comes to defining the role.

What’s in a name? If that name happens to begin with the title “CIO,” it can contain a lot of different meanings, according to David Chou, chief information and digital officer for Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

Speaking to a room full of IT professionals from government and related fields at Interop ITX in Las Vegas last week, Chou outlined a variety of ways to define the CIO moniker -- all of them hinging upon what the “I” in the acronym stands for. The most common usage is chief information officer, of course, which is a reference to the data and related infrastructure that CIOs typically oversee. However, chief intelligence officer might apply if that individual works for an organization devoted to managing its data as an actionable resource for the enterprise. More externally focused CIOs might see themselves as more of a chief integration officer, Chou suggests, and for a business-savvy individual in the post, the title chief innovation officer might be apropos.

“There are at least four ways to define the ‘I’ in CIO now, and I’m adding a fifth one: chief influence officer,” Chou said. The role Chou describes, based on his personal journey as CIO of a major metropolitan hospital in the Midwest, deals less with technology and more with managing people and perceptions to implement change in the organization. If that sounds political, you’re on the right track. “My job is 80 percent politics,” Chou said.

When asked to provide an example of how CIOs need to wage politics to successfully manage technological innovation in today’s enterprise, he recounted his thrice-daily treks to the executive floor of the hospital. With an office situated in the IT department, as befits a typical chief information officer, he made it a point to ascend to the part of hospital where his C-level peers had their offices for his morning coffee every day. He would return at midday and again at closing time, to exchange pleasantries and office gossip, and to inquire about the important topics, plans, and events that transpired in the past few hours. In this way, he was able to forge lasting relationships with the business leadership, and get in on the ground floor of important decisions that would inevitably involve IT.

Despite his efforts, he still frequently finds himself in a position where “I get left out of the discussion, but I always find a way to influence my way back in.” His three guiding principles for “CIO politics” are as follows:

  • Resolve the immediate discussion or issue in a constructive fashion
  • Winning is not enough -- it’s more important to “win others over”
  • “Optimize the long-term relationship between the players”

Chou’s advice to fellow and aspiring CIOs is that by taking the time to develop long-term relationships with as many stakeholders as possible -- particularly those that have influence over the evolution of the enterprise as a whole -- you will have greater success in achieving “transformational” outcomes that make a positive impact on your organization. At the end of the day, Chou says, these interpersonal relationships are what drive meaningful innovation -- not technology.

For more advice and analysis from the IT Leadership and Career Development track at last week's Interop ITX, check out these articles:

Interop ITX: Experts Weigh in on Jobs, Skills of the Future

IT is Great, Now it’s Time to Pitch it That Way

IT Pros Are More Equipped to Address Diversity Than You'd Think

They're Your Employees; Listen to Them

Steve Kovsky has covered all aspects of information technology for more than 20 years in print, radio, television and online. A long-time tech correspondent for radio and television stations in Southern California, Steve is a prolific journalist and author whose body of work ... View Full Bio

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