Nick's Notes

Paper Tigers

My colleague Richard Muddle and I were having a discussion. It wasn’t too serious, we were in the kitchen at work waiting for the kettle to boil. The cause of our debate was a phrase we’d read in a draft report about innovation and neither of us fully agreed with it, yet found it very difficult to succinctly rephrase the sentiment.

The phrase in question was “the CIO has become very skilled at being the guardian of corporate IT systems”. It was the word “guardian” we disliked. Originally, long before the CIO title had been invented, it was probably right but the times have changed. In some cases nowadays the CIO is an observer rather than a participant – think about cloud based social media that forms part of the marketing weekly communications cycle. In such cases the CIO is an independent voice and as one CIO I saw this week explained, in the emerging world his role was to guide and warn, and thereby ensure that business managers understood that they are accountable for the use of such systems but that it was up to them to decide if such systems helped meet the business objectives.

We also considered the express nature of the service management role that many CIOs play. This was the subject of last year’s inquiry. It is this area that comes closest to the guardian role, along with the creation of a standard operating model – although many recent discussions suggest that organisations are much less comfortable with being shoehorned into a set of applications and devices than ever before.

As always, holding a mirror up to the CIO role is part of our annual inquiry. We try to let the sun shine in some dusty corners, and this year we see a number of contradictions emerging within the role. Those contradictions will have to be worked through in an appropriate way for each organisation. But the clear lesson is that the role of the CIO is changing as the needs of their organisation mature, and the application of information technology moves from processes recording business transactions to less structured interactions with the whole value chain of the company.

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