Just What is the CIO's Role?

By Mike Scheuerman

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There has been a lot of discussion in many forums about the role of the modern CIO. To me it’s fairly simple and it’s in the title: Information. The CIO's role is about information. Information to make strategic business decisions; Information to make tactical business decisions; Information about the state of the business; Information about the customer needs; Information about everything that is crucial to the operation and direction of the business. Generating information and the systems that acquire, house and disseminate that information is the essence of the CIO's role.

The person with the CIO title must be able to understand everything there is to know about the information needs of the business and everything about how technology can be used to deliver that information in a timely, cost-effective way. So here’s a breakdown of what the CIO needs to do to fulfill the role chief information officer:

Strategy - The CIO participates in the development and management of the business strategy. Without this foundation the CIO can’t know what information is needed for crucial business decisions and which is just nice to have.

The business strategy drives the technology strategy. Developing a technology strategy with an architectural framework supporting the information needs of the various decision makers is the first step toward delivering that information.

Interpretation - The CIO has to have the business savvy as well as the technical savvy to interpret the business needs in a technology context; answering this key question: What kind of technology can best deliver the information that is required?

Acting as the intermediary between those with those who establish the business goals and strategies and those who know how to implement the technology is one of the key roles of the CIO.

Communication - Developing a communication plan to let all the stakeholders know what progress is being made on getting the information that they need is the next big area of focus for the CIO. You may be able to deliver a wonderful system, but if no one knows that there is forward movement, then you might as well not even do it because somebody is going to get impatient and unhappy because they don’t know what’s going on. Communication at all levels is vital. The information about progress is almost as important as getting the information for business decisions itself.

Delivery - Delivery of information is next big area for the CIO. Putting together plans for projects that meet deadlines and budgets goes a long way to determining the success or failure of a CIO.

There are multiple components to delivery: project management; infrastructure; vendor due diligence/management; security; regulatory compliance; stakeholder input, etc. The list is almost endless. Each of these components has a role to play in delivering that one piece of information that can make or break a business strategy.

Delivering information at the right time to the right person is what the CIO does every day. If that information is faulty or late -- even if it's not be the CIO’s fault -- they will still get blamed because the tools of modern business are technology based. Being a CIO is one of the toughest jobs in any company because you have to know everything about the business, everything about technology and be able to clearly explain it to people who haven’t a clue or don’t care about one or the other.

Mike Scheuerman is an independent consultant with more than 26 years experience in strategic business planning and implementation. His experience from the computer room to the boardroom provides a broad-spectrum view of how technology can be integrated with and contributes significantly to business strategy. Mike can be reached at mike@scheuerman.org mike@scheuerman.org.