Bill Donohue, CTO Digital West
CIO’s: The Senior Technologist or a Key Business leader
For many years industry, in general, has been struggling with the definition of a CIO. Several years ago, there was a book written and numerous articles predicting that the CIO role was dead and that the proper move was to create a CTO position to have someone who had responsibility for technology.
To add to the problem, there is no defined path to CIO. Most CIO’s have excelled at a given technical role: Engineer, Developer, Architect, etc. and eventually get promoted to CIO. Consequently, they are missing the education, mentoring, career pathing and experience required to be not only an effective CIO but also a change agent and a legitimate member of the Senior Team.
Having worked as a CIO in a variety of capacities for many years I can’t count the number of times that either one of my Senior Team partners or an employee has called me to tell me that their computer wasn’t working. I am not an expert PC repairman and can’t program a router. But I can lead technologists.
CIO’s need to have a greater focus on Business Education, both in college and in their continuing education and self-improvement. The CIO role is a professional role and needs to be treated in the same way as all professionals, with their own, specific education route, professional journals, continuing education and the means to learn both business and technology as they follow their career path.
Consequently, there is a need for both a CIO and a CTO. The CTO does in fact need to be the company’s technology expert. Working in concert with the CIO, the CTO needs to partner with the CIO in achieving the goals of the business.
The modern CIO is probably the number two or three most important members of the senior team, if they have the right sense for business, the proper understanding of their specific business and the market that they play in and that they have a voice and true impact to the vision for the business so that through the appropriate employment of technology they can positively impact the achievement of that vision.
Most engineers and architects will select the best technical solution for a given problem. Often, the best technical solution isn’t the best business solution. Technology decisions need to be approached just like any other decision where the company’s wealth is being spent. There needs to be a proper business case developed with defined ROI along an established timeline before committing to new technology, a change in technology or a new application.
In many cases, the latest and greatest is not the right choice. And the bane of most CIO’s continues to be the Airline Magazine. A CEO or CFO reads an article and the CIO gets a page torn from an airline magazine, Cloud Computing for example, with a note saying, “we need some of this”. You, in fact, may not need some of this, but the effective CIO will have already evaluated the technology for appropriate and effective fit into your ecosystem of technology.
CEO’s engage your CIO and treat them as you do the rest of your department heads. In fact, look at them on a broader scale as you do the CFO, since their decisions will impact all the business units. Require them to be active participants in the development and evolution of the business vision. Expect them to participate on an equal level with the other members of the Senior Team and you will be surprised at their ability to provide value, bring change and be active promoters and of your vision.