Are You Having a CIO Identity Crisis?

By Faisal Hoque  |  Posted 2008-04-29

Attention members of the C-suite: Your CIO is having an identity crisis. And it’s your fault.

That’s what you’d hear if you could be a bug on the wall at a CIO convention. What do they want me to do? Oil the machines? Contribute to strategy? Take charge of business processes? Save money? Please the customer? Lead innovation? And may I please have a seat at the table?

Although indecision over roles in the organization can be blamed, this is ultimately the result of the global information age economy in which knowledge determines the winner. Who in your company is responsible for the information? Is it the CIO because his or her title has the word “information” in it?

The latest manifestation of this identity crisis is what the pundits have labeled “CIO 2.0,” as though version 1.0 had been nailed and everyone was on board with it. The truth is, CIO 2.0 can mean anything and everything. On one end of the spectrum, it can refer to a superhero rescuing the organization from certain death. On the other, it can mean master of the latest generation of technology tools known as Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 is as amorphous a concept as CIO 2.0. It refers to new Web-based applications─blogs, wikis, social networks and the like–that make it easy for people to create and share information. And now, it is said, the enterprise should embrace these, and this, too, has a name: Enterprise 2.0.

Let’s step back from all this buzzword fun and ask some fundamental questions. What do we really need to know to survive and thrive in this knowledge economy? The computers you have spent so much money on typically provide data on what’s happening within your four walls, and that began a half century ago with accounting data. In recent decades, companies have improved upon this information with concepts, such as activity-based accounting and economic value added.

Today, however, really critical things are happening outside your walls. That’s where the opportunities and threats are. Given the connectedness of our world, those opportunities and threats might pop up anywhere on the globe. They might come out of left field as something you had never thought about, much less factored into your decision making. And they might be game-changing, for good or ill. And to deal with them you need information, but not the old kind. The father of modern management, Peter Drucker, wrote:

For strategy, we need organized information about the environment. Strategy has to be based on information about markets, customers and non-customers; about technology in one’s own industry and others; about worldwide finance and about the changing world economy. For that is where the results are. Inside an organization, there are only cost centers. The only profit center is a customer whose check has not bounced.

Are you getting this information? Where? Newspapers? Conventions? Staff meetings?

Here’s a way to think about Web 2.0. Your younger people are probably already using these tools, and they’re going to bring them inside your walls–just as 20 years ago they began to bring their own PCs inside. This new generation is probably as plugged into, and as loyal to, their professional peers in other organizations as they are to you. So they know things you don’t. They know who out there is hiring, for example. They make it their business to know what’s happening on the outside.

Are you giving them incentives to use this information for the organization’s good? Are you providing channels for this information to move where it is needed in your company? Do you feel threatened by it? Are you blocking it with a “not invented here” mindset? Are you helping them understand what your firm needs to know and rewarding them for helping out? Are your IT systems and technical people making this happen?

As for outside information, ask: What do I need to know? Who knows it? Where are they? How can I connect with them? How can I create a steady, real-time stream of external knowledge? Very likely you can use technology for this, tapping into networks of knowledge. It can come from your partners, your customers, universities, anywhere.

Who will take the lead on this? Your chief “information” officer? He or she will understand it, but this will require collaborative leadership from the entire C-suite, because it has implications for every corner of the organization.

Identity crisis? It is true not just for individuals today but for entire organizations and industries. The key to understanding it and acting on it is to realize that it is at its root an information crisis. The real problem with the CIO is that you and he or she have been focused on information technology and not on information.

FAISAL HOQUE is chairman and CEO of BTM Corp. BTM innovates new business models and enhances financial performance by converging business and technology with its unique products and intellectual property. © Faisal Hoque