Future CIO: the Chief Integration Officer (redux)

July 9, 2012
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Hard times call for hard thinking, supplemented by effective action. Achieving and sustaining our future relevance in a turbulent economic context will need a radical new approach to the way we deliver value for our stakeholders.

After years of careful observation, I have reached the sincere conclusion that the role of Chief Information Officer is not only redundant but was never really needed. I believe therefore that we should immediately scrap the role of Chief Information Officer and create instead a genuinely useful CIO role: that of Chief Integration Officer.

Hard times call for hard thinking, supplemented by effective action. Achieving and sustaining our future relevance in a turbulent economic context will need a radical new approach to the way we deliver value for our stakeholders.

After years of careful observation, I have reached the sincere conclusion that the role of Chief Information Officer is not only redundant but was never really needed. I believe therefore that we should immediately scrap the role of Chief Information Officer and create instead a genuinely useful CIO role: that of Chief Integration Officer.

Surprisingly, the CIO role has persisted despite often being poorly defined and misunderstood.

When the CIO first emerged from the swamps of IT, many people couldn’t see any need for a so-called Chief Information Officer; because they honestly thought the title was more suited to some sort of corporate librarian, rather than the custodian of crucial commercial intelligence.

And, of course, some unkind folk still joke that CIO simply stands for “Career Is Over.”

I have followed innumerable CIO debates over the years, each an occasion for much brow-beating and soul-searching about the nature and purpose of the CIO. Here are a few of the headline issues that have cropped up most regularly:
• The CIO has the best overall perspective of the enterprise
• Should a CIO automatically have right to a place on the Executive Board?
• We could do even more with technology, if the CIO was properly empowered
• Board-level colleagues don’t really think of the CIO as a business-person.

Which leaves us in a confusing situation where there is still no consensus about what a CIO does, or whether a CIO truly belongs at the top table.

These difficulties are probably best reflected in the diverse CIO Reporting lines which are often equally dilatory and liberally distributed across the CEO, CFO and COO portfolios.

Nobody could ever accuse us of doing things by halves.

Without a clear-cut and widely-accepted definition, the role of Chief Information Officer can be very confusing indeed, particularly when too readily combined with its ‘logical’ counterpart: a Chief Technology Officer. This CIO and CTO double act has been known to create double the confusion for all concerned.

Some incumbents and their colleagues prefer to interpret the CIO role as that of Chief Infrastructure Officer happily embroiled in the bowels of technology, instead of managing the life-blood of an effective enterprise.

While others, perhaps more ‘forward-thinkers’ wish to translate the CIO into quite a different beast: i.e. the Chief Innovation Officer, which is undoubtedly an even more ephemeral concept than Chief Information Officer –and most certainly an incredibly contested space.

My proposal for the next generation CIO is as Chief Integration Officer, a job that can be universally defined and a key corporate function for the foreseeable future.

Here is my reasoning. No individual, group, organisation or enterprise is a stand-alone venture. At every level, our world is constituted from constantly interacting dynamic systems and these living systems engage with each other, directly or indirectly.

In a joined-up world, we need properly joined-up-management. Successful systems must effectively integrate with each other, for mutual benefit. And yet, when it comes to our formal business systems [aka IT] we do not yet attempt let alone achieve seamless integration.

For sure, lots of people talk passionately about extended value chains, partnership, collaboration or electronic data interchange. But when push comes to shove most enterprises still have tremendously big gaps in their information systems – internally and externally.

That’s where the CIO as Chief Integration Officer comes in: a consistent, clearly defined role that will facilitate trans-enterprise integration by providing natural mutual points of engagement and communication.

So what is the function of and value proposition of a Chief Integration Officer?

To ensure that their business is internally and externally coherent and congruent, through the effective integration of all business systems and processes with other stakeholders: whether they be individuals, corporate partners or statutory bodies.

How is this different from the function of a Chief Information Officer?
In two significant ways: firstly the current parallel Chief Technology Officer (CTO) job leads to great confusion of boundaries and responsibilities in many organisations so with the CTO reporting instead to the Chief Integration Officer, any uncertainty of accountability for end-to-end integration of people, process and technology would be removed.

Secondly, the role of the Chief Integration Officer would be unequivocally recognised as a top-table function, rather than the current uncertain position of a Chief Information Officer who is often kept beyond arm’s length from the top-table.

:mrgreen: This isn’t just about job titles though, it’s about delivering effective information systems, in a world persistently populated by uncertainty, ambiguity and complexity.