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Gustin Partners | April 15, 2014 |

The New Minded CIO

By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy

Several colleagues insist on referring to me as a “CIO Whisperer”. One pundit writing for a Northeastern newspaper went so far as to insist that “Thornton is to CIOs what Jane Goodall was to chimpanzees.” I am not certain what exactly that means but I am unabashedly and unashamedly pro-CIO. I find it fascinating when the digerati - confronted with an attitudinal inflection point [i.e., a change in what we want], a digital disruption [i.e., a change in what is possible] or an economic sea change [i.e., a change in what is affordable] – insist, Chicken Little-like, that the CIO sky is falling. The combinatorial impacts of the S.M.A.C. stack [social, mobile, analytics/Big Data and cloud] and the arrival of new animals in the executive forest [e.g., the Chief Digital Officer and the Chief Data Officer] will, if anything increase the influence and impact of new minded and right minded CIOs. Here is my projection: the CIO, the cock roach and the lawyer are going to be the last life forms on this planet.

Because the CIO in many ways serves as the “canary in the mineshaft” for all executives in modern corporations I have, for the last ten years at the IT Leadership Academy at Florida State College in Jacksonville conducted a quarterly survey of CIOs. I ask a statistically insignificant group of smart executives what their priorities are for the current year; what they forecast their priorities will be three years hence and, if possible to draw me a map of where they are, and where they are going.

Maps as a form of Psychoanalysis
Maps provide an exceptional window on how people make sense of the world or how they delude themselves. Maps contain bias. Studying which maps are used and how they are used can produce powerful insights.

A major subscription research firm [we all know who I am talking about] simplifies the world down to a four box matrix. On the x-axis we have “Influence”. On the y-axis we have “Relevance”. According to these boffins IT has four choices.

We can be Low-Relevance and Low-Influence – the “IT as Overhead” Quadrant. We can be High-Relevance and Low-Influence – the “IT as Firefighter” Quadrant. We can be High-Influence and Low-Relevance – the “IT as Overseer” Quadrant. Finally there is the upper right hand quadrant, High-Relevance and High-Influence – the “IT as Facilitator” Quadrant. None of the high performance CIOs I know subscribe to this “Information Plantation” world view.

The IT-centric think tank at a revered technology university posits four possible roles for the CIO:

The Embedded CIO - Works with non-IT colleagues: focused on strategy, business process execution and innovation, new product development and compliance.

The Customer CIO -Works with external customers/partners to sell and provide IT-enabled products and services

The Enterprise Process CIO - Manages enterprise business process such as sourcing, facilities, operations, shared services [often non IT tasks]

The Services CIO - Provides IT services firm-wide and manages the IT Unit and vendors.

The problem with this model [as eloquently articulated as it might be] is that CIOs in large complex enterprises play each of the above mentioned roles and more.

In Geoffrey Moore’s now almost 25 year old opus Crossing the Chasm we are told that there are essentially four different reasons for investing in technology:

[1] Go ahead of the herd for competitive advantage [Bespoke projects from the experts]

[2] Go ahead of the herd to address a painful problem [Proven applications from segment-focused

[3] Stick with the herd as it transitions to new infrastructure [Next-generation infrastructure from
      market leaders]

[4] Go after the herd for less disruption and a lower price [Evolutionary extensions from established

What makes the CIO job so fascinating is that at any one time, in any one global organization all four of these investment modalities obtain.

What does your map for the future look like?


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