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?