CIO Revolution? Really?

InformationWeek has been touting the newest “Revolution” in the CIO job.
I read the GlobalCIO editorial in the December 21, 2009 issue of InformationWeek with a sense of shock. It was not the new developments that shocked me; these were little surprise at all. The shock was the word “revolution.” The implication is that the CIO has suddenly been given a seat at the boardroom table where none was vacant before. If the CIO did not have a chair at the table before, it was because the CIO had nothing of value to say to the board.
The technology industry has often promoted projects and products in a manner like drug companies advertise. ED drugs such as the “blue pill” promote themselves as an enhancement (upgrade) to an already adequate system. The original technology solved a very real problem. The advertisement creates a sense of dissatisfaction or concern and thereby, a sale.
The 70% or 80% of budgets that are spent on keeping the lights on and the hard drives spinning may fall into this category.
In another advertising paradigm, the symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease are used as bait on a line cast broadly in hope of finding a patient whom the medication fits. Broad pain definitions attempt to “catch” a prospect that has similar symptoms; in many cases they do.
Microsoft divides its marketing into TDM (Technical Decision Maker) and BDM (Business Decision Maker) appeals. An examination of the details of these appeals would reveal that the TDM follows the first advertising approach, while the BDM follows the latter. In each case, the better plan for the patient (business) would be to seek and receive a holistic examination by a professional.
CIOs and professionals in general are in a position to understand both business and information technology. They should not expect or insist that the businesses that employ or engage them know or even initially want the treatment that is most appropriate. It is—and has been—the professional responsibility of the CIO to maintain a toolbox that contains both tools of business diagnosis and technological solution.
If this is revolutionary, then the revolution should be dated not to 2010, but to 1979. That is the year John Rockart’s article Chief Executives Define Their Own Data Needs appeared in the Harvard Business Review. Rockart demonstrates that executives often do not implicitly know what tools are appropriate to their tasks.
This is even truer today than in 1979. Part of the IT toolbox must be a tool for determining how to align the IT portfolio with a business strategy that technology both supports and directs. Just as it is unwise to specify the IT portfolio wholly from the business strategy direction, it is unwise to specify strategy without taking IT capacity and developments into account.
Though the technology of 1979 is vastly different from today’s technology, Rockart’s method for business analysis and understanding continues to enjoy application and success. There are other methodologies for this same purpose, but Rockart’s article can certainly serve as a milestone in the development of the modern CIO’s toolbox.
If CIOs do not have or develop such a toolbox, I fear that the “revolution” which most certainly needs to happen, whatever we call it and however it is dated, will fizzle before it takes hold. And the CIOs place at the boardroom table will most certainly be filled by another, as in that case it should be.