CEOs and CIOs: Redefining their roles for the sake of business

The paths of CEOs and CIOs are starting to cross and if the CIO becomes more engaged in the company itself, as it's been suggested, shouldn't the CEO also take a greater interest in company's technology?
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

Does your CEO care about the IT department? Xerox CEO Ursula Burns doesn't. But she does care about the "BT," or Business Technology, department and the job that those folks do to enhance and improve the way Xerox does business.

That's one of the reasons that she hired John McDermott, the company's former chief strategist, to be its Chief Information Officer. McDermott doesn't have an IT background - but those that she interviewed who did come from IT or were already CIOs only talked about one thing during their interviews - the technology. McDermott talked about the company itself, keeping Burns' interest with examples of how the company could address specific problems spots by implementing new technologies. And he spoke it in a way that she and the board of directors understood - using the language of business, not the jargon of tech.

Burns' remarks, which closed out Day One of Forrester's IT Forum, followed a presentation by Forrester chairman and CEO George F. Colony. From his perspective, CEOs didn't really have a reason to care about the IT department in the past. The CEO and CIO didn't really have much to talk about, usually just an update on a project and whether it was going to be within budget and on-time.

This goes back to the message that came out of the morning keynotes - CIOs need to be engaging in strategy meetings, pushing back on busy work that won't help the business meet its goals and proposing solutions that originate with his team. How do they do that? Colony says CIOs must:

  • Get in the game. Learn that company from the inside out. At the morning session, Starbucks CIO Stephen Gillett talked about spending a week on the front lines of a store, making coffee to get a better understanding of other parts of the company's operations. If a CIO wants to get away from putting out fires to delivering new tools, that CIO needs to be in the game.
  • Bring best practices. CIOs need to know who's doing what and what sort of successes and stumbles they've experienced. The CIO needs to have a pulse on not only the technology and the platform - but also the roadmap of the vendor that the company is about to commit to.
  • Get out of the order-taking business. A lot of IT departments spin their wheels processing help tickets and other requests. A CIO needs to develop a point of view, an opinion and a perspective on the company's direction, roadmap and priorities, offering input about the "BT" department's role in the process.

Colony says the CIO's job is to be the teacher for the CEO and the board - maybe even suggesting that the board establish a subcommittee on technology.

Forrester's IT Forum continues through Friday.

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