by Frank Petersmark of X by 2
Despite several generations of executive-level maturity, the CIO role still finds itself playing second fiddle when it comes to full integration with its business peers. Many CIOs say there’s still a fundamental disconnect between them and their business-executive peers on several key strategic issues, including the need to efficiently manage expenses and the marketplace threat from competitors.
So the fundamental questions remain: Why is this so, and what, if anything, might be done about it? Or put another way, how do we once and for all connect the dots between IT and the business?
As a practicing CIO for 13 years at a mutual insurance company, I experienced many of the developments that have brought the role of CIO to where we find ourselves today.
I was appointed to lead an approximately 100-person IT staff in 1998. While this was a modestly sized staff, I think that that my experiences and perspectives apply universally to anybody who has been an IT leader in a medium or large-sized organization. I came from a technical background, and as a result made the mistake of thinking about the organization in strictly technology terms.
As might have been predicted, that approach produced a healthy wariness and distrust of me and IT on the part of my business peers.
Once those painful lessons had sunk in, I proceeded over the next several years to follow a progression that roughly followed the organizational role of the CIO. I began to think of the progressions in my experience as a CIO in something like software release terms.
So if CIO version 1.0 was the techie who managed to move up the management chain until he woke up and found himself in a corner office (well, in the basement), then CIO version 2.0 would have been something like the CIO whose job it was to simply keep the lights on every day, and to make sure that the batch cycle had completed in time for the backups to run, and that the mainframe-based systems were available every morning by 7:00AM, and that ... etc.
In CIO Version 3.0, the role was upgraded to the CIO as expense manager and efficiency expert in all things technology-related. This was the era of outsourcing, vendor consolidation and management, and technology-expense benchmarking. Version 3.0 played well in the boardroom but really did not add value toward the strategic objectives of the organization.
CIO Version 4.0 was, at least ostensibly, spurred by the move to the Internet. That usually took the form of creating a website for the company and developing and deploying client-server applications. This era, which lasted a few years, spanned the Y2K calamity and included the rise of vendors selling distributed applications on new-fangled platforms that most insurance IT divisions could not effectively understand, let alone manage.
And that brings us to some fairly recent history, say over the last three to five years. This most recent era is characterized less by technology and infrastructure, and more by the role the CIO plays in the organization. One of the hallmarks of CIO Version 5.0 was the notion of business alignment, i.e., “IT must be aligned with the business in order to provide the best kinds of solutions and services.”
The problems with applying this notion were manifold, but the fundamental assumptions were 1) your business peers were interested in aligning with you, and 2) as the CIO you had the requisite communication and collaboration skills to engage them. Both assumptions turned out to be less than correct. However, this also has been the period where, arguably, the role of the CIO has made the most progress. The CIO has been finally recognized as playing as strategic role as the CFO or CMO.
I left my job as a CIO in late 2010, just as a new era was dawning. Today, in CIO Version 6.0, the game has changed yet again. Everything previously mentioned is now mere “table stakes”(as poker players would say) for the newest CIO release. In this era of stagnant economic growth, cut throat competition for business and more regulatory scrutiny, the CIO role has once again changed fundamentally.