The Multidimensional CIO

By Jeff Wacker

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The identity of the world's first CIO has likely been lost to history. But you can bet as soon as the position was filled, the newly minted CIO grasped the significance of the clause "... and other duties as assigned."

The companies that appointed those first CIOs in the late 1970s couldn't have envisioned the demanding, multiple responsibilities into which the position has evolved. Mostly technicians, the first CIOs approached their jobs from a technical perspective: Optimize the acquisition, integration, and application of information technology.

But as the role continues to gain prominence and value in the enterprise, the multiple dimensions of the job—in increasingly complex business and technology environments—are truly becoming daunting.

In case anyone doubts this, here are just a few of the many dimensions required for the successful CIO.

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Chief Integration Officer. Generations of single-viewpoint decisions—a.k.a., silos of legacy systems—have created an integration nightmare in most enterprises. Each operational silo is continually demanding a singular set of solutions it considers ideal. But the CIO must take an enterprise perspective of the situation that will inevitably mean compromise at the division level.

There's no other executive position that requires this type of integration ability. Only CIOs need to be integrator and mediator when IT decisions are made.

The difficulty of this dual role is compounded in several ways. First, applications are moving closer to end users. The iterative nature of service-oriented architecture (SOA) is demanding strong business-level—not just technical-level—integration. And next-generation technology will make apps even more integral to the everyday fabric of the business, upping the integration ante again.

Second, IT sourcing models are changing as the need to vary IT components increases and new models for managing spikes in resource requirements become viable. This will require the CIO to integrate business requirements with service delivery, and service delivery with external resources in a more complex arrangement.

Third, the complexity of integration will permeate the broad trans-enterprise value net—business interaction across multiple entities—rather than just within the supply/customer chain or inter-enterprise.

The need for a deeper connection with the supplier's suppliers and the customer's customers in order to provide predictive content will require legal, business, and technical integration on an unprecedented level.

All these new challenges will be formidable—and the CIO will be situated squarely in the middle.

Chief Innovation Officer. Much has been said about the accelerated pace of change and the ascension of India and China. We know that innovation is coming from all directions and sources—and in an environment of increasing change, it must be understood, cultivated, and managed.

A recent Time magazine article noted that while most innovation in the past was generated by a "small, shadowy elite," conditions are now allowing for "open-source innovation," where virtually anyone with Internet access can come up with and act upon the next big thing.

The Web has created the perfect climate for new ideas to come to mind as well as fruition. Much of this innovation will be business-based, but most will be enabled by, and dependent on, the differentiated use of IT.

Some businesses have already created a position with the title of chief innovation officer. Whether that's the case or not, though, the person now known as the CIO will be a key player in cultivating, implementing and explaining innovation.

Chief Irritation Officer. OK, so this isn't the most flattering dimension of the CIO, but it certainly is important. Every organization needs a strategic irritant: Someone who challenges, yet respects, the status quo, striking a balance between what's technically possible and what's economically feasible.

Many opportunities in the future will emerge from new business uses of IT, and the CIO is in the perfect position to broker change.

Chief Identity Officer. Identity management is a capability to optimize the flow of information to partners, customers, and employees. CIOs should know who the right person is, and provide that individual with the right information in the right form in the right place at the right time to drive the right outcome (Right6). This is increasingly a marriage of IT and business.

It's largely a CIO function to put in place the identity management capabilities necessary to improve the efficiency of the workforce and customer action.

Chief Inoculation Officer. The news is full of stories about hackers, worms, and phishing expeditions and they're a CEO's nightmare, both politically and financially. They reduce confidence in every aspect of the business and can cost CXOs their jobs.

Applying the appropriate perimeter security capabilities to not only inoculate the organization against these threats but also recover from these incursions is a critical dimension of the CIO.

However, the security challenge on the horizon lies well beyond perimeter security. It's about creating and maintaining multilayered, context-aware, business-function based security.

Logic-based security must be built in, not bolted on. It requires a strong collaboration between technology and business processes, and must be fed by new, differentiated content.

Finally, security must be transformed from a cost component to an empowering one. Paired with identity management, security will have to provide a seamless flow of content required not only between different enterprises, but also within a single company.

These new roles for inoculation fall to the domain of the CIO. He or she will need new security processes, tools, and techniques, along with an intimate knowledge of business operations, to properly manage risk and avoid becoming part of the next security horror story.

Chief International Officer. In the updated and expanded edition of The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), Thomas Friedman points out that every enterprise must consider the international implications of a flat world.

In the first years of this century, the world got connected and business began to flow across geographic, political, and economic borders. While the primary responsibility for international relations might fall to the COO, the challenge of managing the business and technical infrastructures necessary for the global enterprise rests at least partly with the CIO.

This is no trivial undertaking. Each country has its own laws and set of risks, and infrastructure capabilities in a single region can vary by as much as 1,000%. Managing an international infrastructure requires the CIO to be part lawyer, part technician, part politician, and all businessperson. This isn't an unrealistic demand; CIOs at some second-tier organizations are already meeting it.

Chief Investigative Officer. IT is one of the most rapidly advancing business disciplines. Whereas Moore's Law predicted a doubling of computing power every 18 months, multiprocessor core chips are now poised to increase throughput by 15-to-100 times within that same period.

The law of aerial density indicates that storage capacity is currently doubling every 12 months, but that's without the movement to radically new storage technologies. Edholm's Law reflects the doubling of communications capability every six-to-nine months.

Applications technology is innovating through wave after wave of change. New constructs around utility computing, pattern recognition, simulation, predictive technologies, complex-event processing, and event-stream processing technologies emerge from every page of the next IT journal.

The CIO must understand these new capabilities and, when economically appropriate, apply them to create high business value.

Innovation is rampant on the business side as well. It's estimated that a new service emerges every five minutes. And each service must be considered as to whether it's a new competitor or, perhaps, complementary.

Many of the new services will be delivered through the Internet and won't be geographically bound like their predecessors. The CIO will be at least partially responsible for providing the conduit to this new business-intelligence content, even if the analysis responsibilities fall to other CXOs.

To accomplish this, the CIO must be aware of new opportunities, threats, and conduits for finding them, as well as how they've been used elsewhere and the commensurate risks—a process requiring strong investigative and analytic disciplines.

Chief Information Officer. Sure, you already knew this. But let's focus on information, not information technology. A 2003 University of California-Berkeley study stated the amount of uniquely digitized information is "expected to double every year for the foreseeable future." And a 2004 EMC study reported that "humankind will generate more original information over the next three years than in the previous 4,000 years combined."

Some will argue this is "data," not information. But it's indisputable that the incredible increase in volume and types of content available to the average company is starting to overwhelm our systems—IT, business, and people—and strain current technologies.

As an example, consider that the entertainment and broadcasting industries alone are estimated to be using more than 6 zetabytes (1,021 bytes) of content that, if digitized onto single-density DVDs, would stack to the moon and back twice. As a result, holographic, 3-D, and molecular storage are being propelled forward in anticipation of this information explosion.

But what's unique about much of this new information for most companies is that it's designed to improve decision-making, not for more data-processing. Referred to as context content, the new information flow consists of metadata, or information about the information; collateral information, or what else was occurring; and environmental information, or the state of environments.

When properly processed, this information will provide clues as to the "why" of an event rather than just the "what," and move the basis for corporate action from sense and respond, or reactive, to cause and effect, or proactive.

CIOs will be central to this shift from information for processing to information for decision-making. They sit squarely between the acquisition, conditioning, management, and distribution of the new information from a technical perspective, and the assimilation, understanding, and action of the content from a business viewpoint. They'll be responsible for engineering the first mile of access, as well as the last mile of action that converts information into value.

So much for what the CIO needs to be. What about the roles to avoid?

Here are a few caveats:

Chief Inertia Officer. Inertia is defined as "a property of matter by which it remains at rest or in uniform motion in the same straight line unless acted upon by some external force."

Inertia is what makes companies continue in a direction long after signs of change have passed. It's represented by fixed-cost decisions, when the enterprise is sometimes incapable of overcoming bad decisions simply because they were made recently and must be defended despite better reason.

Increasingly, the future isn't a straight line from the past, and decisions made on that basis won't serve the enterprise well. The CIO must be a force in overcoming organizational inertia and be a strong voice in understanding not only the points at which systems fail, but also the point at which optimal performance is lacking.

This "if it ain't broken, break it" attitude will be critical to future success.

Chief Impediment Officer. IT must be a business enabler, not a business impediment. Increasingly, applications are moving closer to business end users. It's the CIO's responsibility to ensure this happens seamlessly and to great effect.

Current reports from SOA efforts indicate this transition is being resisted by traditional IT staff and is misunderstood by business staff. The CIO is responsible for smoothing the transition from a legacy IT environment to a business-flexible SOA, where IT will move as rapidly, and with as much agility, as the enterprise demands.

Chief Inefficiency Officer. The efficiency of the enterprise is often tied to the efficiency of the IT capabilities underlying and supporting it. Maintaining the efficiency of the IT infrastructure is becoming a more demanding chore.

Six-nines availability requirements mean redundant, standby infrastructure, much of which remains unused until there's a point of failure. Also becoming more problematic is building a computing infrastructure that can be highly efficient during low traffic but can quickly and economically scale to tens of thousands of simultaneous Web hits.

And, as simulation and predictive technologies continue to enter the mainstream for nearly every aspect of a business process, efficiency and ultraflexibility will prove exponentially harder to achieve.

New processes, tools, and techniques will be necessary to assist the CIO in answering the challenge of efficiency.

Although there's some dispute as to the average life span of a CIO, it's generally held to be in the neighborhood of 21-to-24 months. And it's only slightly tongue in cheek that the acronym for CIO is "career is over." To lengthen their service and increase their impact, CIOs of the future must be multidimensional—much more so than any other CXO position.

Not only must CIOs work at the strategy level, they must also understand and relate to the details. They must understand and preserve that which is optimally efficient, yet also muster the courage to find what could work better. Their role is part lawyer, technician, mediator, and change agent. They must be as much at home in the business environment as in the technical world.

No other position requires the executive to excel in so many capacities. And even if someone masters the many dimensions explained here, it's safe to say that the future CIO should prepare to take on further additional, unexpected responsibilities. It's the nature of the job.

Jeff Wacker is an EDS fellow. The title of EDS fellow is awarded to the company’s most innovative thought leaders in recognition of their exceptional achievements. Each fellow has a proven track record of creating world-class solutions for our clients. In addition to their academic achievements and invention history, the 29 Fellows average 24 years of industry experience and innovative technology implementations.