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Super-CIO

The CIO, what is it good for?

Jeff Sussna
Super powers image via Shutterstock

Jeff Sussna believes a shift is happening from information to interaction, and the CIO’s position needs to be assessed to truly service this change. They should focus on helping the business understand its needs for digital interaction.

The destiny of the Chief Information Officer is currently up for vigorous debate. Some would replace it with a Chief Digital Officer. Others would merge it with the Chief Marketing Officer. Still others claim that, given 21st-century companies’ ever-increasing reliance on digital technology, the CIO as it currently stands is more relevant and important than ever.

Understanding and assessing

With respect to them all, though, I think we’re putting the cart before the horse. Before we can accurately assess the CIO’s proper role and position, we need to understand the evolution of IT itself. Without knowing how IT is likely to look, and what its relationship to the rest of the business is likely to be, how can we hope to assess the desired function or characteristics of its leader? If, for example, IT were to follow one of the most extreme predicted paths, and fully dissolve itself into the larger business, then the whole question of the CIO’s destiny would become moot.

IT and the businesses it serves are both undergoing massive transformations. I question the feasibility of predicting the trajectory of either process, and therefore submit that trying to define the CIO of the future is premature. In fact, I believe the problem cuts even deeper. In my opinion, the time has come to question the relevancy of the term “Information Technology” itself.

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IT is no longer in the business of generating or managing “information”. Gone are the days where businesses primarily needed nightly inventory reports, or relied on so-called “management information” systems. Instead, IT is becoming the very medium through which companies interact, both internally and with their customers.

The digital realm is increasingly infusing our ordinary lives. We conduct more and more of our interactions with governments, companies, and each other online. Just as we expect our state and city governments to provide and maintain the roads on which we can drive to visit friends and buy groceries, so too customers and employees expect IT to provide and maintain the digital substrate on which they can electronically collaborate, buy, and sell.

The precise structure and location of this thing we call “IT” remains to be seen. However it looks and wherever it lives, though, it now stands more for “Interaction Technology” than “Information Technology”. To the extent that the CIO continues to exist, it will be more “Chief Interaction Officer” than “Chief Information Officer”.

So what should the CIO do, given the shakiness of their future? Simple: put the horse before the cart. Focus on helping the business understand its needs for digital interaction. Use that understanding to leverage whatever budget and staff it has to enable interaction between employees and with the market as powerfully as possible. Treat the various tools at its disposal, whether they be private or public, cloud or data center, centralized or rogue, as implementation details.

If I turn out to be right about the shift from information to interaction, and if the CIO effectively helps the business interact, then their future will fall out naturally. Just as with the business as a whole, they need the courage and imagination to move forward without being able to predict their precise destination. Ultimately, their nature and their name will follow from their work.

You can read the original article and many others by Jeff Sussna at Ingineering.IT. If you enjoyed this post, we suggest you get a copy of Jeff Sussna’s latest book: Designing Delivery – Rethinking IT in the Digital Service Economy 

Author
Jeff Sussna
Jeff Sussna is the founder of Ingineering.IT, a Minneapolis technology consulting firm that helps enterprises and Software-as-a-Service companies adopt 21st-century IT tools and practices. He is also the author of ‘Designing Delivery: Rethinking IT in the Digital Service Economy’ and is a regular speaker on the topics of design and DevOps.

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