I’ve come across a few posts lately as well as some confusion (in the office and in blogs) about the roles and responsibilities of the CIO (Chief Information Officer). A CIO is not “the computer guy,” “web guy,” or “a techie.” A CIO essentially bridges the communication barrier, knowledge, and strategic gap between the many departments of a business that require technology (whether they realize it or not) to solve business problems.
The CIO is a strategic position because it requires big-picture thinking, and the ability to quickly and effectively identify broken processes (or lack thereof) where technology can be integrated to improve efficiency and the bottom line — or better yet, drive new business and capture market share. Driving new business and capturing market share is really a critical area where a CIO can contribute — because it requires a heavy dose of business intelligence and market awareness.
But I thought the CIO was the head of the IT department?
The IT department is an operational entity, responsible for executing the support of the daily technical needs of employees, implementing new technology as a result of a business need, or implementing/building new services as a result of a business need. IT still needs the “business need” delivered to them as well as an operational manager who manages the department. Depending on the size of the organization, there may be multiple operational managers within the various divisions of IT. The CIO will guide the functional managers in IT to implement solutions that satisfy current and future business needs/problems.
Why don’t other departments just talk to the operational manager(s) of IT?
Typically, departments (marketing, HR, Finance, engineering, etc.), lack the technical expertise to be able to identify exactly what they need to solve their problem. IT can normally listen to these problems and provide a very specific solution. The problem is when these solutions are implemented in silos. Over time, you have many “one-off” IT projects, built as temporary fixes or workarounds that gradually grow into a substantial maintenance burden and waste of IT resources.
This is where a CIO-role plays a strategic role. The CIO has visibility to multiple departments and layers of the organization. The CIO thinks about all of the needs of the various departments, takes future needs into consideration, and plans for scalability. The “silo effect” is neither fun or fair to anybody in IT and as a company grows, managing all of these silos becomes cumbersome and uninspiring — and costly. To undo years and years of silo’d development is usually a major undertaking.
Alright, so the CIO doesn’t manage the IT employees. What is the CIO involved in, then?
To quote an excellent editor’s note from InformationWeek, “CIOs are less involved in day-to-day operations and technology implementation and more involved in business strategy, revenue generation, business-process management, and customer relations.” This article was written in July 2004 and still holds true today. The only addition I would make is that the CIO is also heavily involved in online strategy because it is such a critical customer touch-point and is a major source of revenue generation (directly via e-commerce or indirectly via offline sales), customer relations, and requires strategic business-process management.