CXO

Should the CIO be a technologist or a business person?

A chief information officer (CIO) must have multiple personalities in order to effectively do their job.  They are required to have a personality that demonstrates that they are the company's leader in information technology (IT).  This means that they must have an understanding of the all of the technologies necessary to support the information requirements of the company.  However, they must also possess the personality of a business person.  This means that they must have knowledge of all aspects of the business operation in order to successfully participate on the senior management team.  The question is, "Which personality should be the dominant personality, the technologist or the business person?"

I surveyed a large number of experienced CIOs when I was doing research for my book, "Unwrapping the CIO".  Close to 80 percent of the incumbent CIOs identified strategic planning as the most significant aspect of their job.  They did not just mean figuring out which technologies to implement in the company.  They were talking about strategic planning as it relates to the industry in which their company participates; the actions of the competition; the profiles of the customer; the distribution mechanisms for the company's products; and of course, the effective deployment of information technology.

With the exception of information technology, aren't all of those things business focused?  Of course they are.  However, it is difficult to address any of those areas without the use of information technology.  Therefore, the CIO is required to know and understand each of those business functions.  This means that companies need the CIO to be technically savvy as well as strategically focused.

The global investment in information technology (including telecommunications) is growing at a rate of six percent per year.  The information technology budget of a company could represent anywhere from five to ten percent of its revenues.  This corresponds to a significant amount of fiduciary responsibility for a CIO in a multibillion dollar company.  The CIO must have mastered the skill of financial management in order to be a good custodian of a major portion of the company's resources.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was signed into law on July 30, 2002, and introduced highly significant legislative changes to financial practice and corporate governance regulation. It introduced stringent new rules for financial management and reporting.  It has a stated objective to protect investors by improving the accuracy and reliability of corporate disclosures made pursuant to the securities laws.  This high-profile legislation has significantly impacted every company, since reporting compliance is mandatory.  This also has a significant implication not only to the enterprise but the CIO as well.  The CIO must understand legislative issues as well as the operation of the business.

In addition to being a strategic planner, legislative observer and financial planner, the CIO must possess the skills necessary to be an asset manager, economist, marketing manager and salesperson.

It appears that the business personality will occupy a significant amount of the CIO's time on a daily basis.  Of course, the question becomes, "What about the CIO's technology duties?

The CIO is the leader of the information technology activities.  They are expected to know various types of information technologies.  As the senior solutions executive, they are responsible for the direction of systems and technologies.  They create seamless and integrated fact-based management decision systems through which the senior leadership team will be able to more effectively direct the business strategies and plans.  The CIO rationalizes the value of the existing IT landscape.  They manage the technology architecture, applications development, package solutions evaluation and selection, database management, network communications, end-user computing, operations delivery, and project management. In addition, they create an effective model for capital project funding and IT governance priority with the business. The CIO creates the technology vision and definition of the future platforms required to support the enterprise.

The CIO assesses the current IT systems in place and develops, implements, and evolves the tactical and strategic IT plans. They develop management information systems as well as reengineer the business processes that use those systems. Not all systems will be new. Therefore, they also fully integrate recently implemented systems into all frontline business activities, as well as the existing infrastructure and systems portfolio.

CIOs provide for the operation of the company's global voice and data networks. In addition, their management oversight includes the efficient and effective operation of the company's data center(s).

The CIO provides support to the worldwide mobile workforce of sales and consultants and provides development and support for the laptop, desktop and Web-based product environments.

The chief information officer reviews, approves, and prioritizes all major technology purchases, development projects, and system implementation initiatives, ensuring business value-added emphasis.  They assure the integrity of the corporate data, proprietary information, and related intellectual property through information security and access management.  They integrate the information technology functions of newly acquired companies in a timely and efficient manner-if their company has a strategy of growth though acquisition. In addition, they lead the technology integration of newly combined existing businesses, in both infrastructure and people. This may include the consolidation of call centers, data centers, and so forth.

In addition to the aforementioned technology functions, the CIO has the normal people management of the information technology department.  They provide motivation, leadership, and development of the technical staff.  They are skillful in aligning their diverse professional employees, using their skills to achieve a cohesive team environment.  In most cases, they build and manage a team of experienced, talented IT professionals. This means that their responsibilities include motivation, training, recruitment, retention, and career development.  Keep in mind that the CIO may be performing these people management functions with a geographically dispersed organization of information technology professionals who reside in multiple countries.

Do the technology activities sound like a full time job?  Absolutely.

When trying to figure out which of the CIO's personalities should be dominant—the technology or the business personality—the correct solution is... it depends.  This makes the job of a chief information officer one of the most difficult jobs in the business world.  The CIO is required to switch between these principal personalities from one minute to the next.  They could walk out of a meeting with the senior management team where the business personality is fully employed into a meeting in the data center with the telecommunications professionals in the IT organization.  In the latter meeting, the technology personality must be firmly in control.

When you compare the job of a CIO with other positions, the CIO position will seem intimidating on a good day. A number of corporations use information technology as a strategic weapon in the marketplace. That provides the CIO with the opportunity to have a strong leadership position within your company. To accomplish these formidable responsibilities, they need to wear many different hats and display many different corporate personalities.

So when answering the question, "Should the CIO be a technologist or a business person?", the answer should be... yes!

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