16 Nov Now comes the hybrid CIO
In the IT industry, we’ve been banging the drum for business alignment for several years now. So what has come of all the chanting and ritual dancing in and out of conference rooms across America?
Leading indicators suggest the results are good. My favorite is the emergence of the hybrid CIO. One of the most telling measures of successful alignment is being asked to run a part of the business unrelated to IT. I have to admit some guilty satisfaction that this stands the notion of a non-tech CIO on its head. You know the ones I’m talking about, the CIO who’s only working knowledge of a server was how much to tip the waiters at his or her favorite restaurant.
In the last year, I’ve noted the transition of a number of CIOs I like and respect from just running IT to running some P&L part of the business. In one case, all of that IT vendor management was applied to corporate customer relations for a retail organization. In another, building the global network was followed by accountability for the international side of the business. It seems that managing complex technology systems can be part of a good preparation for managing complex lines of business operations, as well.
In both of these cases, the CIO spent quite a bit of time reinventing IT prior to the invitation to step up to the P&L plate. In another case, the job was to shake the IT shop out of a “we’re just the programmers” rut. One forward-thinking CIO turned downsizing into a career opportunity for his staff to step into leadership roles by putting his own name at the head of the downsizing list. He went on to an EVP/CIO position with another company. The common thread in all the slash-CIO titles I’m aware of is that demonstrated ability to translate business acumen into real IT value for the business. In every case, where that ability to generate business value in IT is demonstrated and repeated, invitations to greater responsibility seem to follow.
This continuing evolution of the CIO’s role begs the following question: Does today’s hybrid CIO really represent yet another way of demoting the CIO and technology function? We’ve struggled for so long to have the CIO report directly to the CEO. Just when we think we’ve achieved it, the CIO morphs into something that we don’t quite recognize and without the true technology believer’s fire in his or her eyes.
I see something different going on here. Certainly, in some cases the “IT as utility” argument can be made, but I don’t see many folks in those situations getting the hybrid title. They either move out of IT all together, or plateau just outside the executive suite. Folks with the hybrid titles have been able to distinguish between utility IT and strategic IT and sell the difference in their organizations. They understand that the VP of IS title, while temporarily satisfying may not have any more staying power than the VP of Electricity that had some currency in the first part of the previous century.
Part of the reason this hybrid role is an indicator of things to come is that I’m seeing it in other IT roles as well. One of my favorite architects really knows his tech P’s and Q’s, but comes from outside the technology community. He was recruited into the position from one his company’s lines of business because of his ability to bridge between the tech community and the larger business. In more than one instance, I’m seeing expectations for business analysts shaped as much by the business part of their title as by the analyst part.
This may feel strange, especially if you’ve been in the IT biz a while, but it’s good. Successful assimilation of technology changes both the environment and the technologists involved. Lack of any real change on the part of the technologists is an early indicator of trouble. If we’re tired of being on the outside, if we’re ready to be on the inside of business decisions, both in terms of overall direction and innovation, we have to be ready to make as much change in our own roles and perspectives as we expect from that inner business circle.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.