Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I is for Innovation

Last week I read another article about how the role of the Chief Information Officer was again become irrelevant with the emergence of the Chief Digital Officer.  This fad of trying to bury the traditional role of the CIO started with Nicholas Carr over a decade below and still seems to come up again every 18 months.

I'm not exactly sure what leads to this push.  Again, I don't see the rush to put a headstone on the the CEO, CFO, or COO roles.  What I do see is a proliferation of CXO roles to the point where there is a "Chief" for everything:  HR, Marketing, Sales, Talent, Public Relations, etc., etc.  There isn't anything inherently wrong with trying to differentiate roles, especially when the business model of a company could lead title creation in that direction.  However, there is a basic reason why the distinction of "Chief" was created in the first place.  It was and still is the differentiator of a role that is so basic, so important to a company that a special person is needed to steward that role.

When the CIO position was first envisioned it was done out of necessity.  In the 1980s/90s when technology was fast emerging as a competitive advantage, someone had to oversee all that "tekkie stuff".  You know, things like the data centers, networking, programming, telecommunications, etc.  In those times the CIO role was more like the COO.  It was designed to ensure that the day-to-day, nuts and bolts of IT were taken care of and managed.  Of course there was a strategic element to it as well but that was less important in those early days.  I can say this with a high degree of certainty because the first CIOs, for the most part, reported to CFOs, HR VPs, and other places but not to the CEO.

After the fear and furor of Y2K disappeared, lower levels with IT leadership (Directors, Managers) began to really take over the day to day activities of IT management.  Then, CIOs were free to be strategic.  Thus the era of the CIO having a "seat at the table" began.  But by about 2007/08 IT began to move beyond the gathering of information and CIOs had to learn to become the people who made sense of the data in a way that they could communicate it back out to the company and its leadership.  Once again, the CIO role changed and many holding the role were/are incapable of evolving with it.  The big difference is that the whole meaning of the "I" in CIO changed, again.

Let's take a look at Facebook as a case in point.  In February of this year, the company announced that people, especially teens, are getting bored with their services.  A reasonable question to ask would be "Why"?  Just like the evolution of the purpose of the CIO, Facebook had failed to understand just how quickly IT (in their case consumer IT) had changed and morphed.  If you logged onto Facebook today and compared the experience with Facebook circa 2010 you would be hard pressed to find much difference.  I would argue that Facebook got so big, so quickly, and became so enamored with its own "greatness" that it failed to innovate.  If I was a seer, which I'm not, I could predict with some credibility the demise of Facebook within three years if they don't find some way to reinvent themselves into something more than a place to store photos and make inane comments that just irritate your friends.  (How many of you de-friended someone over something related to the 2012 Presidential election?  Statistics say 47% of you did.)

Today, Information is just a requisite of the CIO role.  The I must also stand for Innovation.  I make this point because through my experiences and those of others in my peer circles I see that the rewards are going to people who bring new solutions to the table.  Forget about the brick-and-mortar, suit-and-tie mentality that comes with being a "stable" manager.  Leave that to the CFO and COO  executives.  As a CIO you are the visionary on the leadership team.  Reach out for the possibilities to do things that no one else is doing.  Build your own skunk works group within your organizations.  Try new technologies and encourage people to experiment and yes, even fail. 

We are now in the era where everyone is a technophile in some regard.  Unlike 10 years ago, today everyone is configuring some type of technology themselves.  Get out of the business of being a steward of bits and bytes and get comfortable (and effective) at being the person who can turn schemes into true competitive advantages.  It will keep you relevant, keep your seat at the table, and make you the person that people chase for knowledge, coaching, and expertise.

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