CIO Symmetry

Dec 4 2009   3:24PM GMT

What’s going on in IT as the CIO role changes?

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

As the role of the CIO evolves to include more of the business and strategic decision making and less of some of the techy details, the CIO may be missing what’s going on across IT in some situations. But is that a bad thing?

I met with an open source software vendor this week for a product briefing. As the conversation went on and we started discussing what was important to the CIO, we got into a discussion about whether or not the CIO even realizes when the IT team decides to use open source applications to help get the job done.

To prove his point, the vendor shared a number of stories where the CIO was almost completely out of the loop. In one, this particular vendor representative said that he was approached by an IT manager while at an open source conference last year. When the vendor asked him how he was enjoying his time at the conference, the IT manager said that it was actually a nice vacation – because his CIO wanted him to find some open source programs they could run to test out Linux across the organization. “The funny part was,” the vendor told me, “this guy said that they had been using Linux servers for a number of years anyway and the CIO didn’t even know it.”

But then again, how much of that actually matters? The CIO has to manage IT and support the business and know what his skilled staff is up to, but in many midsized shops, he is operating at a higher level on the technology side. Rather than being a hands-on technologist, according to Peter Kretzman in a recent blog post about how to stay tech savvy as a CIO, “at the senior executive level, it’s far more important that you stay focused on process improvement and strategy than on nuts-and-bolts techniques.”

That doesn’t pardon the CIO in the vendor’s story. CIOs should be on top of what’s in their infrastructure. But how deep into the organization does their knowledge need to go? At what point can they leave the details to their top lieutenants? And by doing that, what, if anything, do they and their organizations lose?

3  Comments on this Post

 
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  • PeterKretzman
    Thanks for mentioning my blog post! Just to clarify: the CIO in this story sounds like he/she had an unconscionable level of ignorance of his/her own bailiwick. That said, it seems odd that the IT manager would have just accepted going to the conference as just a "nice vacation", instead of educating his boss. Anyway, the point of my post is that the CIO [I]does[/I] need to stay tech-savvy, at least enough to get the basics right. Being a strategist doesn't absolve you from knowing a good slice of the details; the joy (and the curse) of the CIO job is that you have to excel at both. As for when to leave things to one's top lieutenants? My answer is, whenever it involves actual hands-on configuration, coding, installation, etc. It's a slippery slope once you start doing that sort of thing. Hence my quoted remark: keep focused on process improvement/strategy in terms of how you spend your time at work. Regards, Peter Kretzman
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  • KenLC
    I believe the world of the CIO should be on the business side. The problem is that the infrastructure side of IT has not let the CIO out of technology jail. We are showing signs of infrastructure imrprovement, but enterprises are at varying stages of maturity. The reality of Cloud Computing and SOA will finally free the CIO and IT from the shackels of technology. The use of open source is a NO brainer because it will be the ONLY technology available in the cloud....when we get the current self-intentioned vendors out of the way. Think about it. All of the pieces are now becoming available or possible. The vendor community is currently "clouding" (PUN intended) the picture. It is the enterprise IT groups that need to break through this mire and begin to implement and bear the fruits of Private Clouds, initially internal, followed by cautiously implemented hybrid, then (someday) fully external private clouds. As this scenario unfolds, the CIO is increasingly freed from technology jail and can assume the role his or her name implies.....INFORMATION OFFICER.
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  • ArunGupta
    I feel sorry for the IT Manager as well as the CIO. The IT Manager with his attitude will remain where he is for a long time. The CIO in this case has no control on his domain and thus will probably remain relegated to being a support function for a long time. CIOs today in mature industries and companies "trust" their teams and manage the perception and realities that IT functions manage. The seat at the table requires constant work and a very small portion of that is technical. You may also want to visit the blog http://itknowledgeexchange.techtarget.com/Oh-I-See/what-is-the-role-of-a-cio/
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