CIOs As Rainmakers: The New Meme, Deconstructed

When your CEO or CFO asks you to be a rainmaker, it's a call for help. Wrap it all in context and respond in a holistic way.
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IT is the new moneymaker! I keep reading variations on this meme, but if IT's new role is to generate revenue and profits on its own, I have a couple of snarky questions:

What do the old revenue generators do? Does HR now have to make money as well? Does IT have to be good at IT anymore? Business leaders keep finding new things for IT leaders to run, so do we get to lay off the people they're replacing?

The consumerization of IT, the rise of the tech savvy CMO and the Hollywood-like yearning to take complex situations and simplify them into 15-second sound bites all mean that CIOs will come under fire by the ignorant.

Obviously, there are bad IT organizations and bad CIOs. But that doesn't mean that IT needs to go sing for its supper. Plenty of good CIOs have been engaging in this money-making activity for years -- in partnership with those people whose primary job it is.

Pundits called that practice "aligning IT with the business" until, starved for new material, they decided that this was no longer enough. Trust me: The "new rainmaker" will also fall out of fashion. But moving in concert with the business and helping sales, marketing and other departments achieve objectives like making money -- also known as helping the organization achieve critical goals -- will never fall out of fashion.

Reality is more complex than paper cutout Hollywood CIOs with big, cash-eating grins. Some days, good CIOs do help their organizations make money. Other days, they minimize loss. Or make an operation more efficient. Or delight a set of customers so that they want to keep coming back. None of these things can ever be accomplished without IT partnerships with business units.

I drill this into my staff's heads until I hear them quoting it to others: "There are no technology projects; there are only business projects with technology components." IT should be pervasive in everything that modern companies do. That doesn't mean that CIOs are all of a sudden in charge of everything a modern organization does. Nor does it mean there are CIOs out there who singlehandedly have created revenue for their companies. I've helped my organization generate more revenue, but I would never dream of taking sole credit for it.

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My regular advice to my staff helps me answer my snarky questions. In a world where there's a renewed focus on IT pros assisting with revenue generation, those old revenue generators had better be at the table, or IT will fail. HR and other departments may not be in the same spotlight as IT -- as far as you know -- but believe me, the CEO is looking at them using the same "helpful/not helpful" detector.

IT pros do have to be amazingly good at IT, because nobody else is qualified to do it right. As InformationWeek editor in chief Rob Preston pointed out recently, CIOs should be proud of their technical acumen, without apology, just as it would be unthinkable for the medical director of a hospital to feel defensive for being medically astute.

There's no question that change will continue to be the one constant in the wild and wooly world of business technology. I'd even say that an IT apocalypse is underway. But technologists are more at home with change than just about any profession -- name another field where the state of the art shifts so radically during a career! So rather than get worked up about the latest "IT should run everything while we sit home eating bonbons" motif, let's just consider it a cry for help.

So when your CEO or CFO asks you to be a rainmaker like all of those beautiful people profiled in Forbes, wrap it all in context and respond to the call for help in a holistic way. Bottom line: IT continues to be and always will be a helping profession. Boiling down wild assertions into actionable requests for help should be nothing new to us.

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