CIO Folder: What’s in a name?

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Jargon, terminology, nomenclature — doesn’t a rose still smell as sweet?

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11 November 2016 | 0

Dear Readers, we all recognise that we work and train and amuse ourselves, and even study, in a sector that is riddled with jargon. Whether ICT is worse than other industries and occupations is a moot point. Certainly management consultants were notorious in business at one stage, and perhaps Human Resources people (formerly Personnel, trending towards Human Capital Management) may be the current market leaders in peddling BS terms and titles.

This rant, which will eventually have a point, is triggered by a list of speakers for an upcoming conference which includes someone with the job title “Healthineer”. Further investigation revealed that Siemens Healthcare, clearly one of the most respected enterprises in medical technology, had changed its name since May last to Siemens Healthineers. It had been Siemens Healthcare since 2008 and was formerly Siemens Medical Solutions and previously Siemens Medical Systems.

“So data is the new gold and the CDO is the Chief Prospector. But it is arguable that the CDO title is just elevating a direction and function that happily sits within the remit of the CIO”

One can see how the older titles might have been too narrow with ‘Medical’ as the defining word. But replacing Healthcare with Healthineers surely puts the focus back on the company and smacks of smug corporate vanity rather than acknowledging its target markets? Apart from its sheer clumsiness. The company’s slogan is or was (things change) “Ingenuity for Life”. Healthineer is taking that too far. Positively Ingenuiteering.

Laugh along
But although knocking that ludicrous re-titling is fun, it has to be acknowledged that Siemens is one of the world’s great technology companies, including its healthcare developments, so we can laugh at the juvenile marketing consultants who came up with it and wonder how long it will last.

But we should look at ourselves in ICT. Chief Information Officer has a clear link to Information Technology and, in most respects, we should be happy with it. It is universally understood that the role will have different sets of responsibilities and emphases in different organisations. So have CEOs and Managing Directors and indeed ‘Directors’ who frequently these days are not. We have no meaningful term for a director who is not on the board of the organisation, so we have adopted the US practice of Chief Officers in charge of specific functions.

Once upon a time we had the useful term Management Information Systems in computing (IT was yet to arrive). What was or is wrong with that? MIS goes perfectly well with CIO and IT and all that. You could argue that ‘management’ runs a bit counter to the democratisation of information in organisations, giving access and functionality to everybody. But does it really matter if a term like that is generally understood — and abbreviated?

Which is probably why we have evolved a distinction between CIO and Chief Data Officer—perhaps reasonably given the potential distinctions between the roles and functions. On the other hand, because of the marketing emphasis behind that new CDO role there is a growing — and to this columnist’s mind phoney — distinction between ‘information’ and ‘data’. There a sort of media and marketing movement, exemplified by the Big Data quasi-technical term, that is driven by the excitement of potential value from the ever-growing masses of data we are generating through our ICT. A few decades ago we had similar hype about Data Mining, but at nothing like the same level because our IT capabilities were too limited for our ambitions.

Chief prospector
So data is the new gold and the CDO is the Chief Prospector. But it is arguable that the CDO title is just elevating a direction and function that happily sits within the remit of the CIO. Plus placing another senior manager on the same C-suite level, which could lead to a dangerous splitting of the top level ICT responsibility. With the rise of analytics and data science it does certainly need specialist direction in larger enterprises and there is no question of the potential value of the function.

But the consensus among the top experts in business analytics is that the function is not a single discipline or job. It needs a specialist team with three major skillsets and experience: domain knowledge of the specific industry and even enterprise, data science with expertise in statistical analysis and IT expertise in the relevant systems and applications. A consultancy firm may well offer both strategic advice and particular analytics services, but will major on the data science and statistical expertise. The domain knowledge may well come from the client as well as previous experience in particular sectors, while the ICT element can probably come from anywhere provided it is an integral part of the team. Within an organisation, the core skills of statistical analysis can be complemented as appropriate for specific projects as well as in an ongoing partnership with the IT team.

Evolving service
Bluntly, all of that sounds like a specialist and evolving service to strategic planning and the marketing and operational functions, not a corporate function in itself. Which is what the CIO role is in any organisation and the reason why in many it is incorporated in the Chief Operating Officer’s set of responsibilities. That is most common in enterprises that are based essentially on an ICT platform, like financial services or online digital services that do not involve physical goods.

As for that data, the basic term for any activity other than storage should be Analytics. We could settle for something simpler and broader, of course, like Information. Which would bring us in a circle back to CIO.

We are all seduced by the hype about the awesome potential of Big Data analytics to draw together umpteen data streams from social media to weather patterns and reveal magical and unique ways of doing better business and making more money. But another point of view is that most in-company analytics will focus on relatively straightforward financial reporting. Smarter, deeper, multi-dimensional reports, possibly in real time, but still financial performance reports. They may take investment and effort and analytics to tailor, but once up and running those reports will be for the CFO’s department.

Driving engine
On the other hand, real-time analytics and even artificial intelligence will be the engine that drives many types of organisation in the future. Autonomous vehicles are guided by real-time analysis of the road situation. Entire transport systems and city services and manufacturing plants and supply chains will control operations through IoT devices and that real-time Analytical Engine, which is where Charles Babbage started this whole computing thing.

So all in all, Analytics is a most useful term that encompasses everything about using data for value. In a job title it would place the emphasis on the special expertise rather than on the rank. Anything wrong with Analytics Manager/Director? Then there is that other grating title ‘Lead’ which is at least nominally used for teams and their leaders. So why not Team Leader? Is it some notion that ‘Leader’ might encourage mid-rankers to get ideas above their station? Is it some notion of gender equality, in the mistaken idea that Leader is somehow masculine? Analytics Team Leader would be a perfectly valid, respectable, job-describing title.

We could, like Siemens, brainstorm some more creative titles. Chief Analyst is so pedestrian. Analytics Evangelist, perhaps? Analytics Guru. Analytics Prophet would also be good, considering our high hopes for Predictive Analytics.

 

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