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Transformation to the Information Age Places New Demands on CIOs

Editor's Note: Kay Plantes will be a keynote speaker at the 2012 Fusion CEO-CIO Symposium and a member of the Fusion 2012 Advisory Board. The Keynote is "The New Basis of Competition and Its Implications for C-Suite Leaders and Information Technology Professionals".

Kay Plantes
Chief Information officers (CIOs) who made their careers by deploying information technology to make their companies more efficient will see their roles expand with new technologies, said business strategist, Dr. Kay Plantes Ph.D. An economist by education and training with marketing leadership experiences in her background, Plantes helps corporations stay ahead of commoditization pressures by innovating their business models.

CIOs won’t see the demands for efficiency go away, especially not in current economic condition. But the rapidly changing information-age economy now allows, in fact requires, that they become more proactive and develop value for their organizations using new technologies like social media whose full impact is still unknown.

“If you look at old technologies like ERP, websites and email, they were about making companies a lot more efficient,” she said. “The need for efficiency has just gotten stronger and stronger, but these new technologies -- not just social but cloud, data analytics and mobility -- let you really transform the value you deliver to customers beyond lower prices. You can disrupt competitors’ business models far faster and more effectively as a company, enter new markets more rapidly and create whole new benefits for customers.”

Social media, for example, is a whole new way of communicating with customers. It goes beyond e-mail’s company-to-customer messaging to offer mass collaboration with customers to gain new insights into products a company should be developing or uncover ways to improve its existing products. Powerful new data analytics will allow marketing to segment customers in whole new ways and deliver more personalized messages. Inside the company, social media will allow faster collaboration and make companies more agile. And entire new businesses – LinkedIn and Networked Insights as two examples – are being born deploying these new technologies.
This isn’t just added responsibilities but a new mindset for CIO, from an internal efficiency orientation to a more external focus. They will also need to shift from being reactive to other’s business decisions to being proactive in helping other leaders understand the possibilities new technologies create for the enterprise. For example, “The chief marketing office (CMO) and CIO have to work very collaboratively because the CMO needs the tools to do data analytics, targeting and getting customized messages out to customers and prospects while the CIO is responsible for the speed and scale of the information technology-based processes.”

“The traditional CIO role of gatekeeper where everything goes through them may not be the way of the future. Instead of asking how to fit these new technologies into the way we do things, they have to ask what is the best way to work with the new technologies to unlock the full potential of the company.”

The effects of IT and new technologies have and will continue to vary across industries The larger and more complex the company internally and externally the more opportunity for these new technologies to transform the enterprise. Entertainment and media have been impacted in a major way and retailers have morphed into multi-channel enterprises with customers interfacing with the retailer along multiple channels in multiple ways, While established smaller and niche businesses have experienced more marginal effects, the are not immune to the impact of new technologies on their markets and how they reach them. Internally, larger consumer goods companies which reach millions of people through thousands of employees will see more impact from social media than smaller companies and those in B2B markets where personal relationships will continue to play an important role.

Plantes, who has just moved her residence, uses her abysmal experience with AT&T’s landline, television and mobile services as an example of how IT can fail to deliver a good customer experience. The company’s systems across the three business areas obviously don’t talk to each other, she said, negating the increasingly customer-focused AT&T people.

“As a customer, I can feel the effects of AT&T’s bad information systems, even if I can’t explain exactly where the failures are. But they have had a huge impact on the customer experience and damage my relationship with AT&T. IT leaders have the opportunity to create far more successful customer experiences in the years ahead by proactively deploying new technologies to the benefit of the customer, not just to make the organization more efficient,”

Data analytics, social media, cloud and mobility have dramatically upped the game for CIOs, and they have got to approach these technologies with a far more external orientation than in the past. They really need to ask how the technologies can deliver better customer experience, create new market opportunities and how to use them to become more adaptable and faster as an organization. CIOs who are totally focused on their own departments will miss the boat.”

The world is in the midst of a major transformation, one that has been obscured by the financial business cycle, she added.

“We have gone from the industrial age to the information age. Commoditization has accelerated, new sources of value creation exist, markets are fragmenting and industries are consolidating. As a result, the basis of competition has changed from who has the best product to who has the best business models, which includes the information technology platforms you leverage across all your business models.”

Strong CIOs can help their companies create hard-to-copy business models if they adopt an external perspective and embrace the new technologies proactively and creatively.

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