The "New" Chief Information Officer

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 01-16-2008

The strategic value of information isn't going away, even if the job of chief information officer as we know it may vanish. "Ten years from now, you'll see very few CIOs," says Ian Campbell, CEO of IT consultancy Nucleus Research.

Yet, the importance of information to all kinds of organizations will grow in the coming years. That could mean information strategy will become a specialized and critical function led by a top visionary reporting to the chief executive officer. And the title of that creative thinker: chief information—not chief IT—officer.

In that sense, losing the portfolio to maintain the IT itself and the people who support it is a gift to these farsighted CIOs. Instead of spending too much time on the routine stuff, these information visionaries will focus on the strategic work everyone's been clamoring for them to do.

"CIOs can now truly be change agents," says Bobby Cameron, a vice president and principal in Forrester Research's IT leadership team. "They should be pushing technology management down a level. They don't need to be techies anymore. Now is the right time for them to make a strategic move. The only question is whether they are truly interested or capable of it."

Understanding the role IT will play in an organization is a crucial first step for this new CIO. During the interview process, any potential CIO needs to interview the company as well, to determine if it's going to be a good fit in light of the changing IT management structure.

Being proactive in moving outside the technology box is the next step.

"Volunteer for projects that have nothing to do with IT," advises Stephen Pickett, chairman of the SIM Foundation and past president of the Society for Information Management.

"If your company is opening up a new parts warehouse in Memphis, get on the committee. You're going to have to learn that business anyway, so give yourself some access and a chance to show yourself."

It's time for CIOs to "move out of their comfort zones and assume some risk," Pickett adds.

Most executives appreciate being "informed and challenged," he says. If you're in a group of C-level executives and you're talking about whether the PC network was available that day, "their eyes are going to glaze over."