The CIO Role

The CIO Role

The point here, vis-à-vis a CIO, is that transparency places the IT executive in a unique position to help companies rewire their corporations so as to help them devise more responsible strategies for discovering and exposing information about themselves.

To create an Open Enterprise, firms need open, standards-based IT infrastructures that reach out to partners, customers, shareholders and other stakeholders. Because of transparency, Open IT is an idea whose time has come. Most companies already use technology to communicate their agendas, notably by publishing their sustainability reports on the Web. Yet rarely do they fully capitalize on the power of IT to drive, enable and enhance—and embed—their stakeholder/sustainability agenda into the everyday life of the firm and its stakeholder interactions.

Companies have many systems in place that, with minor changes, could help meet such needs. Firms need to develop consistent messages and engagement models for their portfolio of what we call "stakeholder relationship management" applications. These encompass today's customer and employee relationship management tools, emerging partner relationship management tools and future tools for managing relationships with shareholders and communities.

For example, there's a movement called the Global Reporting Initiative, which finds companies reporting not just their financial results but also their social and environmental results. Many companies dismiss this as whacko tree-hugger stuff, which would undermine shareholder value, but there are dozens of major corporations, not just in Europe but now in the United States, that have embraced this idea. It has many names, such as the triple bottom line and sustainability reporting.

Stakeholders are going to want to have more formal mechanisms for learning about how companies are behaving toward the communities within which they operate, toward their employees, customers and so on. This will require a whole new class of information systems. Just as IT had its genesis in the creation of accounting applications to report financial results, so the next stage of IT will be in creating the infrastructures, systems, processes, and measurement tools to report social, environmental and other results to an increasingly demanding web of stakeholders.

David and I concluded that every IT function should be mandated to rethink its applications solutions to embrace a new integrity strategy. For example, some firms have programs to track the financial, delivery and product performance metrics of suppliers. IT managers should think about how to enhance such applications to provide reporting on environmental, working conditions and other stakeholder/sustainability metrics as well. In the absence of such initiatives, opportunities will be missed, costs will be higher and some risk will never be mitigated.

In many ways, CIOs are on the front lines of the shift toward transparency, and have the chance to provide leadership to move the company toward a default position of candor and openness and, in so doing, leap into the center of these huge changes in the nature of business, to build more trusting relationships with stakeholders.

The smart IT executive will learn about this stuff, get up to speed about it, provide leadership and develop a sensible approach. Once again, CIOs have been given a whole new set of business issues they'll need to become familiar with. If they are to be effective, they must build good relationships, and align themselves with the business, and combat the inexorable pressures for inappropriate slashing of IT budgets that's been going on all over. IT is not dead. It's just getting started.

Don Tapscott is an international consultant, teacher and thinker on technology in business and society. He is president of the Toronto-based New Paradigm Learning Corp., which he founded in 1992, and Adjunct Professor of Management at the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. His tenth book, just released, is The Naked Corporation: How the Age of Transparency Will Revolutionize Business, coauthored with David Ticoll. The book is published by the Free Press in the U.S. and by Viking Canada, a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.

This article was originally published on 10-01-2003
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