Monday, December 14, 2009

Role of a CIO

In an recent event, a CEO raised the multi-million dollar question "What is the role of a CIO" which was a question posed to a gathering of CIOs. But in a social event, I got introduced to a new-age professional — one who hobnobs with CEOs and Boards, all the while talking about environment changes and the resultant impact on future climatic conditions. With Copenhagen in the news, I was interested in getting her perspectives on Green IT. Post the introductions and a bit of discussion about carbon credits, she innocuously asked me the question, “What does a CIO do?”

I was taken aback, aghast, and speechless for a few moments. Seeing my face, she quickly added, “Sorry, I have not come across CIOs in the past.”

And they talk about CIOs driving their companies’ Green agenda!

So I tried to give her some answers based on commonly accepted definitions and job descriptions loved by CIOs and executive search companies. She listened attentively as I started my discourse on the strategic nature of a CIO’s position and how the role has evolved over a period of time to now being recognized as an integral part of the C-suite. However, it was obvious after a few minutes that she was just being polite. She had no interest in the wonderful stuff that CIOs do — at least, not in what CIOs believe is wonderful.

The fundamental question nagged me for a few days after this fateful meeting. So I started asking a few peers that question —without exception, everyone wondered if I needed to visit a Psychiatrist. The more I thought about it, the more it haunted me. My Eureka moment arrived, by chance, while reading “The Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink.

CIOs are left-brained people pushed towards right-brained activities and they face a constant struggle. The CIO’s role involves a transformation from being the glass-house’s keeper. He has to mold himself to becoming worthy of the oak desk corner office and a seat on the management table. For most CIOs, this has been made possible by successfully traversing the path from being a technology person to a well-rounded professional. He has to be the person who is equally at ease with techie stuff, as well as balance sheets and customer engagements. The CIO is unique in his ability to contribute to all segments of the enterprise.

Now, that’s an unusual way to describe a CIO. But to me, it’s a very satisfying definition of a continuously evolving role.


  1. In the age where IT is omnipresent it is very naive to ask what CIO does but still may be the top level title for CIO functions can be
    1) Govern IT : Makes sure IT runs properly
    2) Align IT : Align IT to business processes
    3) Plan IT : Plan for future landscape and enterprise architectures ( IT Strategy ), this is different from align because it may create new avenues for business and IT both
    4) Justify IT : so here u need to show ROI , cost center Vs profit Center

    this is what theory should be :) , practically you are THE SME :)

  2. A really interesting and provocative post. It just so happens that I had a nearly identical kind of discussion with someone on the "business" side. It strikes me that there's a lot of ways this can go. One way I see it, is that the CIO role morphs into a COO role more and more for many companies who need to get to the next level. It's very hard for me to envision a successful future enterprise in which IT and General Management continue to be "separated".

  3. Interesting thoughts!

    In 2004, HBR published an article by Prof Nichols Carr titled "Does IT matter". In this article he plays a devils advocate and questions the basis of a strong IT organisation and its role (or the lack of it) in innovation.

    The definition of CIO that you have mentioned has been the evolution of the answer to that question. In-fact it very snugly dovetails into the conundrum - by defining the IT organisation with the CIO being at the helm of affairs!