There is no longer a one-size-fits-all job description for CIOs, and individuals can flounder in the role unless they understand this. Many organisations have acknowledged this trend. Just look at the proliferation of titles such as CTO, E-Business Architect, and Chief Knowledge Officer - they are clear evidence that the responsibilities of top IT executives don't always fit neatly in a single package. Still, many CIOs suffer from an acute identity crisis, and turnover among individuals in this top slot continues to be high.
It's true that most CIOs have a common problem: a priority list that stretches much further than their budgets and their staff's bandwidth. It's also true that if you're a CIO, business savvy is assumed, in addition to your technology expertise, and the nature and level of your responsibilities is growing. And if you're a CIO, e-business and the IT staffing crisis keep you up at night, while ERP (enterprise resource planning) deployment, stressed infrastructure, CRM (customer relationship management), application integration, security, and outsourcing worries simmer on a burner somewhere.
Although CIOs have all that in common, the specific priorities of any CIO are now being shaped by a mixture of dynamic internal and external drivers. As a result, the CIO's agenda is mostly a result of the environment of which they are a part.
Bubbling up from inside the organisation are several issues that affect CIO agendas. These include changing customer needs, changing employee attitudes, the need to streamline and speed up business, and the need to create new products and services. Add to that the need to optimise supply chains and build flexible business architectures, including partnerships and alliances.
From the outside, CIOs must factor in issues such as the changing Internet landscape, changing industry structures (that are being shaken by e-business), emerging business models, the availability of capital and changing investor expectations, worker demographics, and the commoditisation of technology.
If you are a CIO, your priorities will be shaped by all the internal and external factors mentioned above, as well as others. Specifically, you must determine how these factors are affecting your business, and how initiatives in these areas will change your job. Unfortunately, if they aren't sure what they are supposed to be, many CIOs revert to the fallback position of reactionary custodian of the technology infrastructure, and fail in their role. Looking at the internal and external drivers for your organisation will help you determine which of the following you must be.
The chief technology opportunist: Here, the CIO is a key energiser of strategy and new ways of doing business - particularly e-business. IT is viewed as transformational. So CIO priorities include creating and optimising business processes for speed, innovating and stimulating business executives.
The demand-oriented CIO: Priorities include articulating business needs, shaping those needs, and identifying opportunities to improve business performance by leveraging IT. In this case, the CIO's chief responsibility is to align IT with the business.
The supply-driven CIO (who may be called CTO): Priorities include gathering and integrating IT resources and services to meet business needs and managing multiple resources to get value for money. The CIO's chief responsibility in this environment is to deliver on promises and preside over reliable operations.
The line-of-business CIO: This individual has supply-and-demand responsibilities for a particular business unit or division.
It's no longer useful or meaningful to talk about "the role of CIO". CIOs play various roles, depending on the position of their industry and their organisation, and many organisations will choose to break up traditional CIO responsibilities across several roles.
Unfortunately, many companies don't consider that there is more than one type of CIO when they go shopping for a top IT executive. This puts a lot of CIOs in the unenviable position of having a job description that doesn't reflect what their company needs from them.
Barb Gomolski is a research director at industry analyst Gartner.. e-mail her at BarbaraGomolski@earthlink.net