TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

The New Age CIO: 5 Actions to Take Now

It’s time to start doing what very few have done: elevate and change the role of the CIO.

Over the past 30 years, no C-level position has undergone as many changes as the CIO. Of all C-level positions within organizations, it is also the newest. Is this constant change due to the CEO not knowing how to deploy the CIO? Is the CIO/IT department seen as a cost sink in a tough economic climate with no way to generate a positive ROI from this person or group? More simply, could it be that technology changes so fast that outsourcing IT operations is just easier? The answer is probably a combination of these factors. However, if deployed correctly, I believe that the CIO can and should be as valuable as a company’s CMO, CFO, or head of sales.

Let’s briefly look at the history of the CIO. In the 1970s and early ’80s, there were no CIOs; instead, there were electronic data processing managers (DPMs) who managed the mainframes that crunched numbers. Typically, these folks reported to the CFO. It wasn’t until the advent of the PC, in the late ’80s, that the first modern-day, peer-to-peer network connection was born. Consequently, DPMs began to focus on an organization’s end users and the way data was supplied to decision makers.

In the early ’90s, DPMs started to work in the management information systems (MIS) department run by an IT or IS manager. In many cases, these managers evolved into what we now call the CIO. At the time, I was selling computers for Gateway and then Dell, and I spoke to many CIOs. The goal was to get a computer on everyone’s desk. Eventually, the concept of networking started to take root and it made the idea of outbound communication a reality. Sending an email or an order via modem or built-in fax was considered the ultimate in productivity in those days. CIOs were pushing hard, buying PCs, installing printers, and figuring out whether they should buy IBM, a clone, or an Apple. Would a 40 MB hard drive be big enough? Why do people need color monitors? It was the simplest of times.

It wasn’t until the first browsers hit the market in 1994–95 that the role of CIO changed from hardware provider to information handler. At Dell, I remember a meeting with staff from different business units where Michael Dell told us to figure out how to sell computers on the Web. There was no manual, we had no idea, but we did have a CIO, whom we all looked at and asked, “Well, what do we do?”

For the next few years, the CIO had to hire programmers, figure out how to sell products online, handle credit card transactions, manage security, work on networking, build shipping systems, and install ERP systems. The CIO started to get credibility in the C-suite. CIOs no longer reported to the CFO but rather to the CEO. However, they were still largely viewed as an expense item and not an enabler of the business.

Eventually, the CIO role shifted again to one of managing and storing data. CIOs needed systems that stored email for at least seven years. They had to start storing files, determine how best to deploy servers and storage, have asset-recovery plans in place, and ensure their websites were up, safe, and fast.

Over the past few years, the CIO has had to understand virtualization, the proliferation of wireless devices, SaaS-based models, and—perhaps the most comprehensive change to their day-to-day lives—the cloud.

The life of the CIO has never been easy. They are constantly bombarded with problems and very rarely receive the credit they deserve. The CMO screams for data and wants it mined, the CEO wants to know why the company was hacked, and the CFO wants to know how many more people they can cut and outsource offshore. Very rarely has anyone in the C-suite stood up to say that if it wasn’t for the CIO, the company would most likely not be able to function. Most CIOs are not self-promoters, very few talk about their successes, and even fewer point out that they are, in fact, not an expense line in a P&L but a key contributor to revenue.

The reason for this is quite simple. The CIO is a chief information officer. The issue is with the word information. Information is so easily accessible to everyone that the process by which we acquire it has become an afterthought. No one respects how easy it is to get and then consume information. Over the past few years, thanks to the cloud, data and information are available on nearly any device you use anywhere in the world at any time. Your information follows you. This real-time availability of data is driving a whole new way for people and businesses to connect with one another, market a product, and drive revenue. The dark side of ubiquity, however, is one of cybersecurity and the ability to protect our personal, business, and government information—now a crucial issue for the CIO to tackle.

It’s time to start doing what very few have done: elevate and change the role of the CIO. No longer should the CIO be the chief information officer but rather the chief intelligence officer. Information is no longer what they manage; they now manage and protect intelligence. When you manage intelligence, you are managing the backbone of an organization and, more important, you are providing information to leaders to help them make smarter decisions faster.

5 Actions to Take Now

If you are a CIO, here are five things to do now:

1. Embrace the cloud, big data, and the tools needed to intelligently manage those assets and train your teams to use the assets.

2. Work with your C-level counterparts and provide business intelligence; in other words, metrics, metrics, metrics. The old adage “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” is even more relevant today. If you build tools to mine your data, build dashboards and then work with your colleagues to get that critical information in the hands of decision makers in your organization. You will be a hero—enabling decision making that could be critical in what marketing campaign to run, where to run it, and for how long. Getting critical customer or prospect data into the hands of salespeople makes them more effective.

3. Outsource the day-to-day, mundane task of managing your infrastructure. If you’re new to the cloud, call a cloud service provider and move to one of their offerings. Tired of dealing with desktops breaking? Outsource the wear and tear of your internal infrastructure to one of hundreds of companies that charge a small monthly fee. You will lower your cost structure and, with the right partner, have an infrastructure that supports your team, especially given your growing mobile needs. Will you still get the call at 3 a.m. when something goes wrong? Yes, but not as often. Focus on the cybersecurity of your business and work with partners to make sure you are as secure and protected as possible.

4. Be proactive. Back in the mid-1990s, I saw corporate legal departments turn into profit centers by suing patent violators. You can, too. No, you are not going to sue, but you can make the entire organization smarter with better data, more effective with better tools, and more productive by letting your customers consume data in the manner they want. You will arguably become the most valuable member of the team globally.

5. Do what your CMO and head of sales are doing. If they are reading TechCrunch and Mashable, so should you. Listen in on sales calls to hear what your customers are saying and dealing with. Visit customers with field salespeople to learn what it’s like to be in the field and to hear and see firsthand their problems, how they are presenting and accessing data, and, more important, what your customers want. Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting. It’s the best way to learn. When was the last time you, as a CIO, went to a trade show for something other than enterprise technologies? That’s important, but you should also spend a day visiting shows your sales and marketing people are attending.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is simply this: as a CIO you need to stop being an aggregator and disseminator of information. Instead, take that information, examine what it is saying, and work with your colleagues to intelligently understand how to use this powerful set of data to your company’s advantage. This much I will guarantee: if you don’t start doing this now, you get passed by and your company will be at a competitive disadvantage. If you embrace the intelligence role, you will become so valuable that you will have a seat at the table and people will want to hear what you have to say.

TDWI Membership

Accelerate Your Projects,
and Your Career

TDWI Members have access to exclusive research reports, publications, communities and training.

Individual, Student, & Team memberships available.