The specific word represented by the middle letter in a CXO job is typically well-established and hasn’t changed in years, often decades. CEO immediately brings to mind a company’s top executive. Everyone acknowledges the COO is responsible for operations and the CFO manages the company’s finances.
But how about the “I” in CIO? Several years ago, the notion of the CIO as the Chief Integration Officer began making the rounds, and Ron Gurrier, CIO of Farmers Insurance, discussed the CIIIO (Information, Integration, and Inspiration Officer) in his article “From CIO to CIIIO-Being Chief Information Officer is No Longer Enough.” But most CIOs, both inside and beyond the aerospace industry, have a whole bunch of “I’s” on which we need to focus, and a whole lot of eyes focused on us!
I is for Information – No doubt, the traditional definition is still extremely important. CIOs are responsible for ensuring customers can create, analyze, store, share, locate, exploit, and transform information. Protecting and preserving information will always be a key accountability as well.
I is for Innovation – As Chief Innovation Officers, we are constantly seeking the best way to improve organizational capabilities. Applied correctly, information technology is a key force-multiplier for knowledge workers, and information exchange typically fuels innovation. We have seen how technical and cloud computing can help engineers solve difficult problems at increasing scales. We have also seen how machine learning can find hidden correlations and make it easier for our customers to find the knowledge they need. Automation can eliminate manual work, reduce bureaucracy, and free up staff to work on more important and creative problems.
I is for Infrastructure – We are accountable for the operation of hardware and software infrastructures, whether on-site or in the cloud: networks, servers, storage, applications, databases, mobile devices, and information security. Beyond this, CIOs are accountable for making sure this infrastructure is reliable, robust, and operates at enterprise scale—such that everything “just works” and our customers never have to think about these concerns. (In that sense, we are also Chief Invisibility Officers!)
I is for Identity – CIOs today own identity management for their organizations, which integrates all our services. Identity management is the key to security. We’re accountable for ensuring that we know who is accessing our networks, systems, and data—and making sure that everyone is who they say they are! Identity management is also a way to improve the user experience—the nirvana of universal single sign-on is a goal of every CIO and, like most things, tantalizingly just out of reach. Identity management also represents an opportunity to use personalization to tailor portals, dashboards, and search results to individual customers’ needs.
I is for Ideas – A trip to the cafeteria can be a dangerous journey for Chief Idea Officers, who will likely be stopped multiple times by customers with great ideas on how we can apply IT to make our work environment better. Having a robust and well-defined demand management process for collecting, reviewing, and adjudicating these ideas allows our customers to be heard and ensures that IT is being responsive to the business. And, most importantly, it provides us with a place to direct our eager customers so we can grab our lunch before the next meeting!
I is for Imagination and Ingenuity – CIOs have to think outside the box and to learn to say "why not?" or “yes, if,” rather than “no, because" or “why." Not that we don't say "why" a lot also, but with all the other “I’s” to consider, thinking outside the box is key.
I is for Implementation – The Chief Implementation Officer is warmly welcomed by all colleagues. Ideas, innovation, imagination, and ingenuity are all greatly valued, but the ability to make things happen and implement (well) trumps just about everything else.
I is for Instrumentation – Chief Instrumentation Officers are taking advantage of the emerging “Internet of Things” that turns everything into a sensor and then collects and exploits that data to automate, measure, and monitor tasks and our working environment. However, we’re also accountable for balancing that with security and the privacy of our customers.
I is for Integration – Sometimes, I feel like I spend most of my time performing the role of Chief Integration Officer. Our IT services are powered by products from dozens of vendors, but a good user experience depends on integrating those products together into cohesive, intuitive services. We also integrate cloud and third-party services into our on-premises infrastructure, integrate strategy with technology, integrate business requirements and business processes, integrate collaboration tools and business unit needs, and integrate information security into everything. And, most importantly, we are “people integrators,” balancing the needs of the CEO or CFO with those of the CHRO, COO, and more.
I is for Initiative – As Chief Initiative Officers, we are responsible for large, complex projects that span organizations, business areas, and stakeholder groups. Implementations of Enterprise Resource Planning or Customer Relationship Management systems can be multi-year, multi-million-dollar efforts and require deep understanding of the business to customize and tailor these systems for operating in a company’s unique environment. As Chief Initiative Officers, we are also expected to take the initiative and teach our customers about the art of the possible, meaning we must anticipate their needs in advance.
I is for Insight – As Chief Insight Officers, we’re expected to have the insight to take what the business needs and decide which IT solutions can make that happen. We are also expected to harness the organization’s information and data to create the insight required by our customers to execute on their business needs. While we may not be the primary “owners” or stewards of the data, we have unique access and ability to create powerful analyses and visualizations that can turn data into knowledge and provide decision-makers the insights they need to make decisions that matter for the business.
I is for Inspiration – As Ron Gurrier noted, inspiring and empowering staff is a key requirement for CIOs. In my organization, we are focusing on the customer experience with a vision to become the partner of choice for all other corporate organizations in whatever efforts they undertake.
And then there are those times, and we’ve all had them, when nothing is going the way we’ve planned, another five corporate initiatives are being proposed, and we’re sure CIO stands for Chief Inadequate Officer. Fortunately, those days are few and far between!
Bottom line, CIOs wear many hats and are expected to serve as focal points to enable our organizations to achieve across numerous areas. You just might say the “I’s” have it!