The Roving “I”

Business leaders have gone to the extent of reinventing the new full form of “I” in “CIO”. The error lies in trying to box in this role. The “I” is a moving target; roving around if you will

The Roving “I” - CIO&Leader

Much has been written about the role of CIO since William Synnott and William Gruber introduced it in their 1981 book, “Information Resource Management: Opportunities and Strategies for the 1980s”. It was their solution to the increasing complexity in organization, management, and technology. In the forty years since, leading universities, business/technology publications, and global consulting powerhouses have written about the “evolution” of the role of CIO; business leaders have gone to the extent of reinventing the new full form of “I” in “CIO”. The error lies in trying to box in this role. The “I” is a moving target; roving around if you will.

The “CIO” is wearing different hats, at different times and in different rooms during any given day

Before we get to that, let us first look at why is there a need to redefine this role. Surely and steadily, the pace of information technology transformation and disruption has increased in the last few years. Additionally, the pandemic has accelerated the implementation and adoption of game-changing technologies. This acceleration has made technology as important to the business as money. It would not be an exaggeration to say that today, every company is a technology company.

Let us also look at what the research is telling us. In its last Future Systems Research, Accenture reports that the “leader” firms grew twice the rate of “laggard” firms (the adjectives being defined in terms of belief that humans and machines can bring out the best in each other). And the CXO at these firms have a high degree of confidence in the reliability of their data. Add to this, the data from TCS’ 2020 CIO Study; it says that at leading digital firms, LOB heads and Board of Directors play a large role in ideation and strategy for the digital roadmap (indicating the importance they attach to it); while CIOs spend almost two-thirds of their time on Innovation (a shift from just keeping the lights on in the computer center). Finally, let us take into account Wall Street Journal’s Technology Outlook for 2021. A key statement it makes is that we are on verge of a revolution on the lines of internet and mobile phones; a revolution that will merge physical world with content to create a whole new experience, and how we interact with each other.

So, the “I” in CIO is no longer just about “information”. The “I” is now a six-stage process, with all the six stages in the play concurrently. Without much ado, let us look at the six-phase “I”:

Phase I: INFORMATION: IT as usual.

Phase II: INTEGRATION: IT for/into business processes and end-to-end SOPs.

Phase III: INTERVENTION: bring standardization and seamlessness across business functions.

Phase IV: INNOVATION: improve SOPs and Decision Dashboards.

Phase V: INVENTION: discover existing but unknown truths.

Phase VI: INTELLIGENCE: discover counter intuitive truths.

These are progression levels of the IT function, which occur in the sequence above; and therefore, need to be tracked, controlled and managed accordingly. However, concurrence is bound to happen. The phases are not consistent enterprise-wide; they are measured and tracked at program level, each of which can/will be at different stage. An additional complication is that the phases are to be deployed in the manner that is the current favorite of IT: Agile Methodology (Develop – Grow – Test – Deploy – Return to the start of the cycle with new information gained). The entire progression is iterative, and perhaps never-ending.

All in all, the “CIO” is wearing one of these six hats, at different times and in different rooms during any given day. The only thing common to all these hats is DISRUPTION: proactive and self-induced. It is the only trigger for migration to next phase in this cycle. This is important because rapid transition can only be achieved through Disruption; therefore, Disruption is inevitable, and it is best initiated by design. It is of note that any successful disruption starts with a business idea and comes from within; which makes collaboration between IT and Business a cultural paradigm. Take e-commerce for example, which was driven by logistics and marketing ideas and needs, and not by simple availability of technology. Or the ATM machine that lay waste for 40 years until someone figured out the business model of Any-Time Banking.

So, should the title be renamed to SixIO? Perhaps yes! SixIO: A Disrupter, who is also a strategist, a communicator, a researcher, an ideas guy, a businessman, an entrepreneur, and everything else any other CXO needs to be. This Disrupter keeps the organization aligned with its own vision and the ever-shifting ground all around it. So, it is time to recognize it for what it really is.

The author managed large IT organizations for global players like MasterCard and Reliance, as well as lean IT organizations for startups, with experience in financial and retail technologies


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