For a couple of years now, the lines between IT and business have been blurring. So much so that the topic is not even a novelty anymore. That all teams work to keep the business good, is an acceptable state of affairs, and IT has been established as an enabler- not a separate entity. What doesn’t make business sense, is not welcome in the process- and IT has been the driving factor across all processes in a business.
Hence this discussion has really no moot points.
But recently, a small feature in a prominent enterprise leadership publication caught my attention – it spoke of an interesting role – Chief of Staff- much like the Chief of Staff bureaucrats and political bigwigs have. This is the person who does the intelligence data work, connects with stakeholders, and essentially adds productivity value to the CIO role. The story was about Amanda Clarke, as the Chief of staff to the CIO, discusses her experience in the role at Newport News Shipbuilding, working with the CIO Bharat Amin.
Clearly, CIO is the IT head, and in many cases (though this is increasingly changing), he is not a great business leader. When a company sees the need for such a role, it is a clear indication that they are taking their IT-business link very seriously. More importantly, it is more of a strategic part that this role will play, a sort of conduit between the hardcore tech and the business-facing teams. Most often, even with a lot of leadership efforts, these two find it difficult to collaborate (though that’s changing now). The value that It today provides to any enterprise is really about the business excellence that they facilitate.
Under the circumstances, it makes a lot of sense to have this conduit- that understands business needs and IT capabilities- and more importantly, gets the business capabilities and MIS (a slightly archaic term, but applicable here). This role will have a clearer, higher-level view of the facts of the company, its capabilities and its need to deliver business value on one hand. On the other hand, it will also have the information needed from the IT capabilities, their plans and how they can be matched with the business need.
As a student of the CIO community and strategies, in my opinion, this role will become increasingly crucial in times to come. Maybe even find a seat at the board table. Even though in many companies, I read, the role is a glorified administrator, but in time to come, this will need to change. It becomes increasingly more amalgamated with the business value it provides. The CIO, essentially a technocrat, will need a business interpreter of sorts. He or she will be the single point where business plans will be converted into IT investments, leaving the CIO free to get the best possible technology strategy in place, and not worry too much about the business part- because his or her interpreter is doing that job!
In a way, the CoS role adds value to the CIO role as well- allowing him or her to focus on innovations, better RoI and finally- building a reputation as a business-driven CIO.