Death of the CIO…No Way


I have been seeing rumors on the death of the Chief Information Officer for a long time now. After just serving a stint as a CIO at AIIM, I can tell you that the concept is silly.

This silliness recently came-up in a LinkedIn discussion and a blog post from an AIIM Board Member, Dan Antion. Dan went into several examples showing the need for a CIO which were dead-on.

I’m going to further illustrate the craziness of not having one.

Not a Director of IT

The first mistake that many people make is equating the responsibilities of the CIO with the Director of IT. That is a mistake. An IT Director is all about technology. Their job is to provide the tools for the organization, focusing on the bottom two layers of the CIO’s Hierarchy of Needs.

You typical IT Director may not have a deep understanding of the business or how it all works together. They are much more tactical in focus. Do not get me wrong, a good IT Director is worth their weight in gold, but they are not necessarily CIO material.

A CIO needs to think strategically. They need to understand the business, speak the language of the business, and be viewed as a contributor among all parts of the business. They have to command respect of their executive peers and of the CEO.

A CIO has to Lead.

Some have suggested that a Chief Financial, Marketing, or Operating Officer can just assume these duties.

Not if you want to win (and who doesn’t?)

Other Owners

As Dan mentioned so clearly in both his post and the LinkedIn discussion, the Information of the organization belongs to the organization, not to any subset. Each units information has value and the needs of a single unit must NOT supersede the needs of the entire organization.

  • CMO: Marketing is getting a lot of attention these days. Marketing automation, the website, and linking all the information back to the CRM system is very popular right now. It is a critical problem that organizations need to address. That doesn’t mean that the Finance, HR, or Content/Collaboration systems should take a backseat. Give Information Management to marketing and it will.
  • CFO: Finance will view IT as a cost. The minute you do that you lose innovation and any strategic advantage you may ever hope to gain from your Information. Doing this just screams “We are content to be average.”
  • COO: This is a a situation of over-compensation. The COO has to know the business and the competition in and out. The ability to keep abreast of the technology and still effectively run the operations of the organization is almost non-existent. This is a case of stretching too thin. Sure a good Director of IT can make a huge difference here, but linking the understanding of the technology and the business in the same head is what is needed, not two (or more) people.

If an organization is small enough, sure, a CIO may not be needed. The CEO or COO may be able to readily take on the role. When I joined AIIM, that wasn’t a feasible option. The Information architecture was far behind in several areas and it had reached the point that a dedicated CIO was required to push forward.

The Role Matters, Not the Title

The key thing here is that there needs to be a person who not only understands the business, but can function as part of the business. Understanding the latest technology trends is very important, but so is thinking strategically. This person has to have a seat at the table or decisions will be made that will set the organization up for failure.

Maybe the title of CIO will fade from fashion. It doesn’t matter. There needs to be a C-level whose primary responsibility is Information and the systems that leverage that Information.

If you don’t have that, then be ready to watch the competition zip by you.