On an average, I receive more than 100 email newsletters every week from various publications and sites that focus on CIO agenda and leadership. These newsletters are expected to help me keep abreast with what’s happening around the world in the domain that I made my career with, which is Information Technology — now almost always referred to as IT. My mailbox has been full of such messages for as long as I can remember, maybe a decade or so now.
A decade back, the IT leader — now referred to as the CIO — focused a lot on applications, infrastructure, new technology innovations, and business process improvements. In a few cases, the CIO also participated in discussions that were indeed strategic in nature. Contributions to ideas and products were happening even then, as they are the norm today. Ten years back, emails were not as many as they are today, pure-play content sites were few, and not too many sent daily updates. The focus was typically on the nuts and bolts that make up IT infrastructure, the wrapping around it, the database, middleware, presentation layers, and packaged applications which were replacing legacy custom coded programs.
The CIO’s role started transforming in the early part of this millennium. This was driven with the expectation that if a CIO has to retain his right at the table, he has to become more business savvy and leave technology to partners and outsourced teams, as these skills became commodity. IT teams reorganized themselves around business functions and avidly pursued learning of, and about the business and processes. The focus was on how IT teams could contribute towards achievement of common corporate goals and objectives. Vendors and consultants changed their pitch to the CIOs talking about business issues, measuring the efficacy of the CIO’s business knowledge, and how they applied this towards solving real business problems.
Thus CIOs started to attend executive development programs, speak about business technology, scavenge management books, and debate with management thinkers. It was suddenly about how to challenge CEOs and other CXOs on how they can contribute to the business. A few expanded their roles into other parts of the business.
All along, CIOs continued to stay in touch with their roots through various newsletters, magazines and online publications. These media channels continued to feed them with latest happenings in technology, vendor landscape and case studies of how someone leveraged technology investments (in a few cases). IT-business alignment was one of the much debated subjects.
But guess what? Media continued to push technology content down the throats of CIOs who were not really interested in that stuff anymore. Yes, awareness of trends, innovation, new gizmos, and collaboration technologies was important, but not to the level of detail that is being published. That is stuff for IT managers, the doers, and the technical teams (outsourced in many cases).
And that confused the CIOs on whether they should retain the level of in depth technology expertise which is being thrown their way. Most weaned themselves off such content, to make the move towards domain, industry and softer issues that a CXO has to manage every day. Content for such learning is rarely available from even marquee publishers — offline or online.
Such disconnect between expectations drives home the point that the evolution of information givers to the CIO is still incomplete. Media has lagged behind the role that they themselves have created for the CIO by egging them away from the technology stuff towards what matters. We are thankful for that, and hope that CIOs will no longer be subject to tips on how to configure a listener for a DB or resolve malformed IP packets or even look at performance management tools for networks!
By attempting to address a range of audience which spans mid-level managers to executive directors and senior vice presidents, the upper segment is being alienated. And if the CIO is indeed the focus, then a major transformational change is required.