CIO, CDO: dodo?
The editor in chief of CIO UK magazine argued recently in his editorial that the title of chief digital officer (CDO) is as pointless as chief innovation officer and as likely to go the way it did, quietly into the night.
Mark Chillingworth argues, quite convincingly, that digital is a culture that can and must be fostered organisation wide, not a role to be enshrined with one person. Innovation too, he argues needs to be an organisation-wide culture, not some drum that is banged by a lone individual irrespective of their seat on the board or on at the right hand of a CEO. These are distinctly different to information, as information is a resource that can be managed and treated uniformly according to a policy that befits each organisation. As such the CIO, where the ‘I’I stands for information, is still very much relevant to today’s, and probably tomorrow’s enterprise organisations.
Chillingworth later published some good comments generated by the piece, where there were arguments for and against, from some very informed commentators.
The title of chief information officer is still relatively rare among truly Irish organisations, with IT or IS manager being relatively common, and even variants like head of IT, IS delivery manager etc, but very few CIOs
But all of this got me thinking about Irish organisations — and I mean Irish. I don’t mean those organisations that are simply the Irish registered branches of a multinational, but rather larger organisations that have developed here.
The title of chief information officer is still relatively rare among truly Irish organisations, with IT or IS manager being relatively common, and even variants like head of IT, IS delivery manager etc, but very few CIOs.
This is the case for a number of reasons, one being that American corporate culture often does not necessarily extend to an organisation that may perhaps have a substantial IT department, but only as a result of the digital needs of a business that might be generations, if not centuries old. As such, the title of the top IT bod may have derived from a time when an enterprise owned a computer, which may well have been a VAX, a DEC Alpha or the like.
In this context, the argument over what the ‘I’ in CIO stands for, or whether there should be a CDO or not, is moot. As we have never really adopted the term CIO, so too, we have never really looked at innovation as a role, or digital as person — Irish organisations have tended to determine their own course, looking for the technology when they needed it, often with some kind of visionary there with one of those ‘head of’ titles, guiding senior managers toward solutions or directions that would be suitable.
In much the same way that we don’t tend to get vice presidents of this that or the other, the structures around these things tend to be a fair bit flatter, often to great benefit. This means that even if a head of IT or IS does not necessarily sit on a board, it is usually no extraordinary circumstance for this person to address that board, or be asked questions by it when the business is looking to develop, answer a need or look a solution to a problem.
A seat at the board certainly lends weight to the position of CIO, but in my experience, where a business is leveraging technology well, even if it is not the core of what it does, there is usually respect at the very least, for the opinions of the head of IT, IT manager or whatever. While it must be said that a lot of this is certainly to do with scale too, where smaller organisations with flatter hierarchies there is no stigma, or indeed pomp and circumstance, to addressing the board for IT, beyond maybe having to wear a tie.
Chillingworth certainly has hit the nail on the head in terms of culture when talking about both innovation and digital business, but I would argue that in the Irish context, that trusty old IT manager is pretty good at fostering such things anyway, and not being so far from the board, though perhaps not having a monogrammed seat thereon, has the opportunity to be able to garner support at the highest levels.