Next-Gen CIO -- The Role Redefined

Nov 11, 2010

Pam Baker

The role of CIO has morphed faster than Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde -- with about the same amount of agony. Not so long ago CIOs were respected misunderstood master geeks who were often software developers and programmers themselves. More recently, they’ve been shackled to securing and supporting a hodge-podge of bring-your-own-tech and often derided for being behind the times.

In the beginning, the CIO’s importance to business was a given (for who else knew what the heck a server was, much less how to make the thing work). Later, the CIO role became something of a mix of head hacker-smacker, cost-shrinker and Web-weaver. Now, the role has morphed once again; this time to something a little harder to label but infinitely more respectable. In essence, the CIO role has moved from data-room-tinkerer to master-thinker.

“The new marketscape is putting the ‘Information’ back in Information Technology,” explained Elizabeth Sweigart, director of Opportune, an energy industry consulting firm. “With a services-based economy, the category of intangibles and intellectual property goes far beyond patents and trademarks; the value in these service organizations lies in the knowledge of the individuals delivering the services.”

Those CIOs that understand this paradigm shift will advance their careers at lightning speed. Those that do not are apt to lose their keys to the data room.

CIO as profit prophet

CIOs are now not only fully out of the data closet but standing on the profit generation pedestal. “More enterprises are becoming information companies directly or indirectly deriving profit from the intellectual and information assets and our ability to capitalize on those assets, in real-time,” said Rob Meilen, CIO of The Sports Authority. “Our executive teams are turning to the CIO for strategies and actions that monetize the enterprise's information assets.”

In other words, CIOs are no longer expected to sit at the boardroom table and suggest ways to move other C-seat dreams into reality, but to stand and present new revenue streams from the data the company already possesses.

“Technology is only one part of the equation. The CIO must focus on the quality of the data captured, not only the method of capture,” said Sweigart. “Going forward, CIOs will be called on to ensure that their organizations are able to gather, store and update the knowledge and information held within their company by a workforce that is becoming even more transitory.”

CIOs that can truthfully boast their databases are clean, and that they found a new and meaningful way to monetize that data, are on the career fast track. “In the future, for information-based service organizations, the CIO and COO will perform the same role; there is no need to have both. Why? The revenue generating operations are information based,” said Stephen Hay, founder of the New Zealand-based boutique consulting firm, People and Process Limited.

CIO as changeling

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this recent mutation in the CIO’s role is the expansion beyond the IT space. “A CIO's role is expanding from corporate leader to change agent focused on enhancing the return on investment of information technology, expanding the business impact of IT, and acquiring and managing innovation,” said Michael Meehan, co-founder and CTO of ENXSuite, a software and services company that helps organizations like Sears and the City of Chicago plan and execute sustainability programs.

For example, one of the new areas now falling under the CIO’s domain is energy. This is primarily because IT is an energy hog in need of slaughtering but it can also be because energy from the datacenter can be sold to the new smartgrids thus creating yet another new revenue stream. “Energy is one of the last unmanaged assets in the enterprise and CIOs can make huge gains if it is managed just like any other corporate asset or liability," said Meehan.

CIOs must also look to cutting energy costs, without cutting services, while innovating to profit from energy generation where possible. In addition, the need to protect the environment and leverage new “smart” technologies is, in effect, placing the CIO in the forefront of facility management, too. Because of this, moving facilities and energy under the scope of the CIO will become more common in the near-future.

“Changing the organizational structure such that both IT and facilities report to the CIO is a relatively simple way to align everyone in the data center around common goals, metrics and objectives,” explained Lennart Jonsson, vice president and CTO of Eaton Corporation's Electrical Sector. “That, in turn, will help ensure that IT and facilities managers are equally motivated to lower power bills without reducing uptime.”

CIO as big picture specialist

The CIO role is also breaking into specialties. While they must maintain their role as general IT overseer, they must also adapt more to industry specialization than they have had to do in the past.

At healthcare organizations, for example, “concepts being tested today, such as accountable care organizations and the patient-centered medical home, will rely heavily on growing IT capabilities within healthcare organizations, and CIOs will be heavily involved in that process,” explained Fred Bazzoli, senior director of Communications at CHIME – the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, an organization comprised of 1400+ healthcare CIOs. “This goes far beyond getting software installed and making sure PCs have enough memory to operate new programs.”

And, just like healthcare, CIOs must now work closely with federal regulators, hospital staffs, clinicians and other industry players, CIOs in every industry must also be able to form teams that include members outside of IT and even outside of the organization. Soft skills are thus increasing in importance. However, in this massive expansion of responsibilities it is important not to lose sight of the continuing need to proactively manage IT.

While career advancement for CIOs is not dependent on the CIO’s ability to master all these new roles (at least not yet), those that can demonstrate such a skill set have a definite and definitive competitive edge.

A prolific and versatile writer, Pam Baker's published credits include numerous articles in leading publications including, but not limited to: Institutional Investor magazine,, NetworkWorld, ComputerWorld, IT World, Linux World, Internet News, E-Commerce Times, LinuxInsider, CIO Today Magazine, NPTech News (nonprofits), MedTech Journal, I Six Sigma magazine, Computer Sweden, NY Times, and Knight-Ridder/McClatchy newspapers. She has also authored several analytical studies on technology and eight books. Baker also wrote and produced an award-winning documentary on paper-making. She is a member of the National Press Club (NPC), Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and the Internet Press Guild (IPG).

Tags: IT management, CIO, career, leadership,

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