SIM President: Where CIOs Need To Focus Now

In his dual role as incoming president of the Society for Information Management and CIO of Altria Group Inc., the $98 billion, New York City-based conglomerate that includes Philip Morris and Kraft Foods, Jim Noble is in an unusually good position to see where corporate IT is heading. In his view, the big question confronting CIOs is how to do more with information, not how to do more with technology. That means focusing on “core” tasks while outsourcing the “chores,” so CIOs can devote more time to innovation, business intelligence and change-management issues.

CIO Insight: Where should CIOs be focusing their efforts?

Jim Noble: They should be developing a sourcing strategy—finding good partners who can handle operations for the CIO better than the CIO could do it in-house. Only a handful of companies in the U.S. should run their own IT operations. It’s not core.

Being creative also matters. My goal is to help SIM members be more about “I” and less about “T.” I’d like to promote a concept called open innovation. We may not be smart enough to come up with all our own ideas within the company, so we need to embrace outside organizations. This has caught hold in our business; Kraft Foods has appointed a senior vice president of open innovation. That person is reaching out to our suppliers, retailers and customers for help with innovation. This is where the big “I” comes in. It’s business intelligence and change management, and that’s the sweet spot we’re targeting at SIM. It’s not about keeping the lights on.

What’s your definition of business intelligence?

It’s giving your business an information advantage. Business intelligence smacks of efficiency, doing what you’re already doing and doing it faster, better, cheaper. That’s important, but not sufficient. I’m going for the higher end of information advantage—helping your business grow its market share at the expense of its competitor by gaining an advantage in how you’re managing information. For example, in the consumer product goods industry, the big opportunity is RFID. However, it’s not whether the chip costs 25 cents or 5 cents that keeps me awake at night—it’s what to do with the information.

And how does change management fit into this?

These days, if you want to get influence at the board level, you have to become a general manager rather than a techie. To make that bridge, you have to demonstrate results. And getting results doesn’t just mean having good ideas. It also means achieving a certain outcome. To do that, you have to be skilled in the human aspects.

With that in mind, which IT jobs do you see growing in the future?

Sourcing strategists will grow, people who can manage the third parties that do the commodity work. You’re familiar with author Geoffrey Moore, who wrote the book Crossing the Chasm? He coined the “core and context” framework. We’ve translated that into “core and chore,” because nobody wants to do a chore. The IT people who will be in demand are those who are rooted in the core of the business. They are systems analysts on steroids, if you like. Also in demand will be the people who can push out the chores and manage the business results.

So an IT organization in the future is going to have two kinds of people: sourcing managers and innovators.

Yes, but the innovators don’t necessarily have to come up with the great ideas. They have to be smart enough to harvest the ideas of others.

As SIM’s incoming president, will spreading the “core and chore” concept be your main mission?

I’ll leave you with this: IT has gone through a bad patch, because we were the purveyors of new toys and because of the dot-com bust. We have had to reestablish our credibility as not just a necessary evil, but as an organization that can produce business outcomes. That’s where I would really like to focus my effort as SIM’s president in 2007: to put the IT profession back on an even keel, as the people who are valued at the highest level of any business. That’s my goal.

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