Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The CIO defined (according to Martin Butler)

Interesting article from Martin Butler, regarding the role of the CIO. This is the first definition I've seen that seems to have the right blend of operational and project imperatives, as well as strategy.

The role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) within an organisation is the subject of much debate. We are starting to move on from the rather blunt discussion of whether or not the role should exist at board level – that surely is dependent on the strategic intent for IT within the business, and the capabilities of the individual concerned. The blend of skills required for the CIO role is certainly changing, but my concern is that there is still a substantial gap between the typical core education and career development path on the one hand, and what we expect of the CIO on the other.

I believe that the core skills required for the CIO role should include the following ten principles, and we must ensure that the career development path reflects these:-

1. Awareness of the core processes that support the organisation. Firstly, a CIO must have a comprehensive understanding of the organisation, its value proposition, its structure, its resources and funding, and the core revenue and cost-generating business processes that make it tick.

2. Appreciation of the role of information within the organisation. This is a key point because it focuses on information, rather than technology, as the basic currency of the CIO role. Understanding how the value-creation processes of the organisation rely on (and can be enhanced by) information, should be the most fundamental part of the responsibility.

3. Sound understanding of business and organisational finance. The CIO requires both a general understanding of business finance, and a specific familiarity with that aspect of his or her own organisation. I believe that CIOs should not be reliant on others to assess the financial worth of prospective projects, but should be able to use such knowledge to understand where their efforts can most usefully be focused.

4. Knowledge of core technology propositions and technology trends. Whilst I would place a separation between the CIO role and that of the principal technology caretaker, it is important that the former understands the basic building blocks at his or her disposal, how these fit together, and how they are likely to develop over time.

5. Creative approach to business problem solving. This, I believe, is one of the unique skills of a CIO: the ability to bridge the gap between business requirements and how technology can support these. The rapidly-evolving nature of technology means that the problem-solving toolkit, and the accompanying patterns are also changing. CIOs must, therefore, constantly consider new solutions to the challenges facing them.

6. Ability to communicate the business impact of technology initiatives. The next requirement is to be able to communicate those solutions effectively to senior colleagues and to the organisation at large, in terms which are meaningful to the relevant audience.

7. Experience of initiating or leading business-change programmes. Whilst it is the CIO that is typically charged with developing the solutions to information-related problems, it is often the case that others are expected to implement that solution, and drive through what can be a significant scale of business change. Whilst a CIO must engage with many other participants within the organisation for project success, I believe that he or she should be capable of leading a programme where information management is the primary characteristic.

8. Understanding of how to assess and manage risk. The CIO should be fully conversant with assessing and managing project risk, with particular emphasis on those elements of risk that are associated with developing new information systems, and introducing them into an organisation.

9. Focus on service quality and service improvement. A key element of the CIO role is to foster a service approach, and to implement ways of monitoring, maintaining, and improving the level of service. Above all, this requires developing metrics for information costs and value, which should be as essential to the organisation as financial metrics, production statistics, or sales figures.

10. Aptitude for establishing and managing relationships with third-party service providers. Where an organisation has made a decision to outsource a substantial portion of its IT provision, then the role of the CIO will be to assist in managing the interface between the external providers and the requirements of the organisation. With an internal model, the CIO should similarly help define and manage the interface to IT services, and be closely involved in decisions on which services might sensibly be sourced externally.
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