The Ever-changing Role of The CIO
Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 4:15PM
Steve Romero

I am sure you have heard the calls for the “new CIO.” Analysts, pundits, and IT experts are advising CIOs to change, or more popularly, transform. They warn if CIOs don’t change they will soon go the way of the dinosaur. Instead of a six-mile-wide meteor, it is the onslaught of so-called game-changing technology trends threatening to render “conventional” CIOs extinct. The consumerization of IT, mobile data, and cloud computing are the forces most frequently cited.

I wrote a post a couple of months ago dismissing the notion the CIO’s days, and IT’s days for that matter, are numbered I offered my rationale for why this view is ludicrous and I provided IT leaders with some advice to help prevent enterprises from throwing the CIO-baby out with the datacenter-bathwater. The calls for the CIO to change do not share the absurdity of the end-of-the –CIO predictions, but they potentially perpetuate one of two false claims: either they imply the need for CIOs to change is new, or worse, they imply the CIO role they advocate is new.

I contend the only CIOs who need to be told to “change” are the CIOs who have failed to successfully respond to the constantly shifting dynamics relentlessly influencing their roles. There are many CIOs out there who have responded to those forces at work and they have continually and successfully evolved into the information technology leadership role appropriate for their given enterprises.

I don’t want to oversimplify the situation or get existential, but just about every role humans fulfill in life is subject to the “change-or-fail” imperative.  Given the mutable nature of information technology, everyone associated with the profession is required to constantly evolve. There has never been a time in computer history where a static-state was appropriate for a CIO. But instead of asking CIOs why they are standing still, analysts and pundits have chosen to simply advocate ushering in a “new CIO.” I can only surmise that simply issuing new marching orders is less controversial and problematic than indicting existing CIOs – or more appropriately, indicting the businesses to which they belong. Instead of addressing the issues that caused “conventional” CIOs to fail to evolve (or devolve in some cases), experts simply describe a new CIO role. This is most often characterized as a driver of enterprise innovation – elevating IT from a mere service-provider disconnected from the business, to a strategic asset and source of competitive advantage. After reading the latest ‘change-or-die’ article I sent out the following tweet:

“I have yet to see a single characterization of the "new role of the CIO" that is not what the role of the CIO should have been all along.”

To make my point, I refer to one of the most reputable authorities on the role of the CIO, CIO Magazine They publish an annual report on the state of the CIO and I contend that two of their past studies provide descriptions of CIO that pundits are now describing as the new CIOs. In my book, “Eliminating ‘Us and Them’ – Making IT and the Business One,” I cited these studies in the chapter, “CIO as Savior.” Here is an excerpt to make my point that these calls for the “new CIO” are not new at all, and how businesses neglecting to govern IT, are the primary culprits when CIOs and IT fail to appropriately evolve and serve the enterprise:

If IT is not performing as desired and the business is dissatisfied, it is almost always up to the CIO to fix it. And not just any CIO, but the “right” CIO. More specifically, the right CIO archetype. CIO Magazine’s “State of the CIO ‘07” survey resulted in the identification of four distinct CIO archetypes. Based on its research, the January 2007 CIO Magazine defined the archetypes as follows:

What I remember most when I first read the CIO survey was how I wanted a CIO to possess the characteristics and abilities of each of the CIO archetypes. If they did, they would be the “right” CIO no matter what the circumstances. Sure, a given situation or circumstance absolutely places an emphasized need on one type over the other, but they each have their merits. I find it difficult to picture a CIO not needing to call on each of the proficiencies and strengths of each of the archetypes. The implication of CIOs having such singular purpose ignores the dynamic and constantly changing nature of providing business information technology to the business.

As I was writing this book, CIO Magazine published an updated view of the “next-generation CIO” based on a report from a research organization. The CIO Magazine, 4 Personas of the Next Generation CIO, March 2, 2011 report described a “broader definition” of the CIO, demanding that CIOs deliver more business value, profitability, and market differentiation. The article no longer lists the different CIO archetypes and instead identifies four CIO “personas.”

Before I share the personas, I want to point out that this new definition of a CIO asks to provide what an “old” CIO could have delivered if that CIO functioned within a sound IT governance framework led by the business. Each of the new requirements (more business value, profitability, and market differentiation) were cited years ago as outcomes of meeting two of the principles of IT governance: technology alignment with the business and delivering value to the business. The CIO personas are as follows:

When comparing the CIO archetypes to CIO personas, the Chief Infrastructure Officer persona is very close to the Operational CIO archetype. The Chief Integration Officer persona is very close to the Business Leader CIO archetype. The Chief Intelligence Officer persona is very close to the Turnaround CIO archetype, and the Chief Innovation Officer persona is very close to the Innovation Agent CIO archetype.

Even when you do find CIOs who possess the abilities of each CIO archetype or persona, chances are they are inhibited from fully utilizing those talents anyway. Most CIOs don’t even sit at the enterprise leadership table. CIO absence amongst the ranks of executive business leaders sends an incredibly detrimental “top down” message of “us and them.” It was around 2008 that the number of CIOs finally passed the 50% mark, with over half of IT’s leaders joining the executive business leadership team.

The global economic downturn soon changed that. The last study I saw placed the number at 43%. The CIOs who weren’t sitting at the leadership table were likely reporting to the CFO. According to the study, over half of the CFOs who didn’t lord over the CIO wished they did. When the business does not know the value of business information technology (given the enterprise lacks the governance to prove IT’s value), then IT will remain a cost to be controlled and the CFO will likely be asked to beat the bucks out of “them.”

Those CIOs who are given enough rope typically rely on the specialized “one thing at a time” approach. They assume one of the CIO archetypes or personas and fixate on one or two major issues within IT. They fixate on cost reduction. Or they fixate on service delivery. Or they fixate on project delivery. Or they fixate on operational excellence. Don’t confuse this “fixation” with prioritization. They figure out what is the most important thing to fix and they go about fixating on it until its fixed.

This approach can only “fix” so many things at a time. And while IT is fixating on what is most likely the most critical issue, many other existing problems and issues fester and new ones are born. Soon the problem du jour is fixed and the CIO fixates the organization onto the next problem, and then the next, and then the next. Even more disturbing is the prospect that once the need for a specific CIO archetype or persona changes, many CEOs or Boards erroneously conclude the only recourse is to hire a new CIO capable of attacking the new set of problems. The revolving door that seems to accompany most CIO offices is not the only spinning taking place. There is the recent trend to not only put a new spin those three letters (CIO), but to come up with a new name entirely. I have heard calls for Chief Business Information Officer or the Chief Information and Process Officer. Though each of the proposed characterizations of the position provokes some very interesting thoughts, it is the act of searching for a new name that is most telling.

The desire to differentiate from current convention shows discontent with and disapproval of the CIO position. This discontent and disapproval is unfortunate because more times than not, CIOs do deliver. I have never worked for an incapable CIO. In my time traveling the world as an IT governance evangelist, I can’t recall ever encountering an unimpressive CIO. These women and men who rise to the top of IT’s pyramid are almost always capable of genius. They know what they’re doing and they get it done.

Though CIOs have solved countless IT problems and made a myriad of business information technology advances, the problem of “us and them” will never be eradicated unless it becomes THE problem to be solved. When a CIO attempts to solve the problem of “us and them,” he or she will find no one technology, no one methodology, no one specialist, and no one CIO archetype or persona can solve it.

Take a look at those now five-year and one-year-old CIO magazine descriptions. I challenge you to find any description of the “new CIO” depicting anything not listed in those CIO archetypes and personas.

I agree that CIOs who are disconnected from the business and who don’t wield information technology to drive business innovation should change, but I don’t agree that the change is simply being driven by the consumerization of IT, mobile data, and cloud computing. CIOs (and all of IT for that matter) should be in a constant state of change. The forces du jour are merely amplifying the inadequacy of many CIOs who have failed to continually and successfully evolve into the role that is right for their enterprise. Yes, the current set of influences are admittedly extraordinary, but there is nothing in the mix beyond the facility of sound enterprise driven governance of IT coupled with effective process management in a culture founded on values driven behaviors.

The failure to evolve will never be solved unilaterally by the CIO, I don’t care how many times they “change.” Enterprise governance of IT is the key, and this governance is not the responsibility of the CIO or IT, it is the responsibility of the business. The CIO and IT are part of the business – and it is the business that must change. 

As I was writing this post, I received this tweet from @EricDBrown:

CEOs disregard CIOs when it comes to strategic changes - #CIO


~ Steve ~

Article originally appeared on Romero Consulting (
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