Last year, BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, held a summit for and about digital leaders. Included in the summit was a discussion session about the role of the chief information officer (CIO) hosted by Ade McCormack and featuring Nick Millman from Accenture, John Morton from IP3 and Dave Wheeldon from Aveva.

The discussion started with each person describing what they see as the role of the CIO. Nick Millman from Accenture said: ‘Based on the conversations that I have with CIOs it is often around two aspects. One, how do they set themselves up for success within the organisation and what should the CIO be doing versus what other C-level executives are doing in the organisation.

‘With the digital world those boundaries are blurring more and more, so how do you set yourselves up for success in terms of who is responsible for what? Secondly, with the shift into these new technologies, how do you get the workforce that you need, how do you find the people with the digital needs and experience? How many should you hire in, how many should you train or what do you give to service providers?’

John Morton from IP3 added: ‘Sometimes there isn’t a CIO in place, but different personas of CIO. Some have been brought to embrace change projects, some have spent the past years running the business. When new business demands growth or being prepared for growth, come to the fore, you need to ask yourself whether you are the right person to drive change in an organisation.’

Dave Wheeldon from Aveva said: ‘As a CTO (chief technology officer) I think I have a good bridging knowledge of how CIOs and CTOs crossover and where IT can enable us for business process change and technology innovation and so on.

‘What I frequently find, when I talk to CIOs, is that they want my opinion about CIO topics. They want my opinions about big data, about cloud computing and social and mobile computing. I don’t give them advice; I have a discussion with them about why they are interested in those things in their business.’

Dave went to on to say that he thinks that the I in CIO, information, is very important because information is the lingua franca. He feels that people who can’t speak that language are destined for obsolescence in modern industry.

He then added: ‘What I encourage CIOs to think about is, how do they get the maximum return on the information model in their organisation? How can they focus on the strategy of that information model and how that information model is evolving.

‘We own that information model for the whole corporation and that, for me, is an important and critical role for the business. It is a role that shouldn’t have any competition if the CIO approaches it as their piece of the cake.

‘Too frequently CIOs tend to get wrapped up in other CIO topics and, I think, they get too close to procurement and therefore they get too close to technology providers and this means they tend to go towards the IT responsibility rather than the information responsibility.’


The discussion moved on to the subject of other job roles within organisations. Nick Millman asked: ‘Is the CIO looking at information or are they running the IT function? I think in some sense the trend is already there for organisations to have a chief data officer, which I think does happen when the CIO is running the IT function and people think about who is looking after our data, who is thinking about governance and our data model.

Let’s create a new role called the chief data officer (CDO). ‘We are seeing a surge in the number of organisations getting a CDO and we did some research across major organisations in the US and the UK and two thirds of organisations, approximately, said that they had a CDO or that they intended to appoint one in the next 12 months. In some ways if the CIO doesn’t start to tackle the data issue, the answer is that a CDO suddenly appears.’

Mark Say, author of the BCS whitepapers on the next wave of computing, who was  in the audience, then asked: does the fact that a lot of CIOs have come from a technology background mean that they get given the IT function, whereas if they came from another part of the business they wouldn’t necessarily get it?

Dave Wheeldon answered first and suggested a CIO’s role is often governed by their previous work experience. ‘The experience I have when I am talking to CIOs is that they have lost their way during their careers. I came into IT as an engineer, but added IT as a way to do engineering and have become a moderately IT-literate IT engineer.

‘Some people, who have gone down the pure information technology route have lost their connection with the business. I feel that I, and others that I meet in our business, have a very strong crossover between a business discipline such as engineering or production plus IT. The people who get stuck and find it difficult to progress are people who are more of a single dimension and work in the IT discipline.’

Ade McCormack agreed with Dave. ‘I think you are right. We develop a brand and, particularly if you have gone through a technology path, the chances are that your brand cries out technology and that’s quite difficult to shake off if you want to make it into the boardroom.

‘I don’t think you can mix the brands of being a business leader and a technologist because your brand will always go to the lowest one you exhibit. A boardroom-bound CIO must arrive with more than just technology management and even information leadership. They need to be multi-skilled if they are going to get a place in the boardroom.

‘We are seeing non-IT people being successful in CIO roles because they can’t understand what their people are talking about so they force their people to talk in a business language, which I think is a good thing.’

Mark Say then brought up another issue that probably doesn’t help CIOs and that is having to respond to day-to-day IT pressures. When you are seen as someone who has that technology knowledge and people come to you, it must be very hard to say “no, I’ve got other priorities in my job.”

People then just see you as the person who responds to the technology problem rather than information business issues,’ he said. Ade McCormack agreed with this. ‘It happens every day where CIOs are going in to see the CEO and it turns out that the laptop isn’t working, so you become the chief laptop fixing officer.

You get a bit further in and the CEO says “my 13-year old daughter has this app and I want our payroll to be an app.” So now a 13-year-old girl has more influence over IT strategy than the CIO.

‘I think it is around brand and perception. I believe job number one for digital leaders and aspirant digital leaders is to get their brand act together, of which there are probably four stages to do this. ‘The first is to define what your brand is. Stage two is to re-engineer your bio to reflect that, that doesn’t mean lie though.

It might mean hiding the fact that you’re a programmer, as that might not help you where you want to go. The third stage is to behave like the new brand and the fourth is communicate the new brand.

‘This works very well with people that don’t know you. If you talk like a business person, they will presume you’re a business person. You may well get push back from people who want to keep you in a certain place and many business leaders are not comfortable with making that journey.’