Is the CIO Obsolete? - Page 2

Oct 23, 2006

Daniel Gingras

The question may be more complex than Mr. Welch postulates, because, some, if not all, IT organizations simply have a difficult time rising to the level of what Mr. Welch calls “broad strategic utility." This has caused a crisis in the whole view of technology by business, best illustrated by the infamous Nicholas Carr article 'IT Doesn’t Matter', and his later book, Does IT Matter?

I think Carr has missed the point in a lot of ways, not the least of which is his use of the false analogy, but there’s been enough learned criticism of his work. I do think he has a point however; driven by a number of fundamental problems within organizational structure of many companies, and predicated upon the problem with the role of the CIO in most organizations.

These problems break into really two major classifications: A false or mis-constructed view of the role of the CIO within the organization, and/or the wrong person in the job.

Time for Change

How can we break this cycle? First, we must accept the premise not all IT organizations will be strategic. We don’t need to go as far as Nicholas Carr, but many companies, particularly those in manufacturing, commodities and other industries where the focus is primarily on lowering costs, IT will play a major role by creating efficiencies, but will struggle to rise to the level of “strategic.”

I had indicated in an earlier article “Where does your organization fit?” that few organizations fall into the “strategic” category, and every organization should decide where they fit before they structure their management team.

Secondly, we must truly understand the role of the CIO and we must slot it appropriately in the organization. In addition, we need to hire for this position appropriately.

The true CIO is a senior officer of a company, formulating strategy and a core member of the senior management team. As a peer of the CFO and COO, the attributes necessary for the role do not include his understanding of Microsoft server technology.

If we focus on this, we will be able to effectively use IT within the modern corporation. If we don’t, we will continue the wasteful policies of the past.

Daniel Gingras has been CIO of five major companies and is a partner at Tatum, LLC. , a nationwide professional services organization of senior-level technology and financial executives who take on leadership roles for client companies. He has more than 30 years of IT experience and teaches computer science at Boston University. He can be reached at

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