The Emergence of the CIO-Plus

This is an article by Peter High from more than 10 years ago, published on

The original article can be found here.

As IT leaders become much more business-centric in terms of their skillset, they have been asked to assume additional responsibilities beyond their traditional IT roles. The reasons are varied, but it is at least partially due to the fact that IT is one of the few (some argue the only) departments that understand business processes from end-to-end. Moreover, IT leaders must speak with peers in the c-suite or heads of business units about their plans and strategies. Clever IT executives recognize that this puts them in an ideal position to identify themes from across the organization and suggest single solutions to address multiple needs while fostering greater collaboration across the company. Lastly, as CIOs and their teams develop competencies related to people management, governance, security, procurement, vendor management among many other topics, these are areas of expertise that apply to other parts of the organization as well.

For these reasons, a great number of CIOs have been asked to take on additional responsibilities. I refer to this phenomenon as “CIO-plus.” CIOs are now also Chief Innovation Officers, Heads of HR, Chief Supply Chain Officers, and Heads of Shared Services to name just a few. Some leaders that have assumed these additional responsibilities, include:

  • Puneet Bhasin, the Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice President of Technology, Logistics and Customer Service for Waste Management (NYSE: WM)
  • Ben Allen, the Chief Information Officer and the Chief Innovation Officer of Marsh & McLennan (NYSE: MMC)
  • Sheleen Quish, the Senior Vice President IT and HR at Ameristar Casinos (Nasdaq: ASCA)
  • Chris Scalet, the former Executive Vice President of Global Process & Services and CIO of Merck (NYSE: MRK)
  • David Johns, the Chief Information Officer and SVP of Global Information Services for Owens Corning (NYSE: OC), and who used to be Senior Vice President and Chief Supply Chain and Information Technology Officer of that company.
  • Chris Laping, the Senior Vice President of Business Transformation and Chief Information Officer Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (Nasdaq: RRGB)

The reasons these executives and others have given as the logic to expand CIO’s responsibilities include:

  • Due to the nature of their work, CIO’s tend to use structured, logical ways to tackle big problems, which are skills that can be applied beyond IT
  • Having CIOs take on responsibility for other departments provides greater opportunity to take costs out of the organization
  • Historically, CIOs have been more introverted on average. Those who are strong at relationship building and communications while maintaining detail-oriented technology expertise have a solid balance that apply beyond IT
  • So much innovation that can yield top-line and bottom-line improvements are delivered through technology, so more IT leaders are becoming business value drivers

It should be mentioned that more than one CIO-plus executive also indicated that it is attractive for many companies to double a successful executive’s responsibilities without doubling his or her pay.

How can IT and business leaders groom the CIO-pluses of the future? CEB recently released a study entitled, “Breakthrough Performance in the New Work Environment.”, and a particularly interesting insight that is drawn out in the analysis is that “the new work environment requires organizations to take a much broader, enterprise-wide view on performance—redefining employee roles to emphasize collaboration and broader organizational impact. Ultimately, managers and employees need to shift from focusing on individual contribution (meeting individual work tasks and objectives) to ‘enterprise contribution.’”

The study suggests that leaders (CIOs included) evaluate employees based on their network performance, which is defined as “the performance of others broadly across the organization (i.e., beyond individual and team performance).” This encourages IT employees to think beyond their individual silo. IT for IT’s sake is useless, whereas IT that delivers business value is critical. This requires better collaboration with the rest of the organization; furthermore, this suggested metric indicates that it is not enough for IT employees to think about partnering with a single team or a single business unit, but they should develop an internal network across the company to a greater extent so that more common needs can be addressed once through new IT capabilities and enhancing the overall value of IT, while eliminating redundant IT investments that have historically plagued departments in the past.

CEB points out that “firms that were able to move more employees to high levels of enterprise performance realized a 10% improvement in profitability, compared to a 5% improvement for those who emphasized and achieved high levels of individual performance alone…Unfortunately, 64% of employees do not feel their current role truly reflects how they do, or should, work with others to get their jobs done.” Providing clear incentives for employees to collaborate further is key.

Lastly, the study recommends the following steps:

  • Manage collaboration over discrete work tasks
  • Invest time in building complementary teams, and keep the ones that work
  • Emphasize “network management” alongside knowledge management
  • Encourage and enable collaboration with external partners

By following these steps, IT departments may have multiple CIO-pluses in the pipeline while contributing greater value to the companies that they serve.

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