The role of the CIO is changing. No – it has changed. There has been a revolution that has sneaked up on them. If they don’t respond then they could be sidelined on their march toward the Boardroom. Sadly their past life has not necessarily prepared them well for this evolution.

The evolution is from DATA through INFORMATION to INSIGHTS.

In the beginning the CIO was trying to put in place systems to cature and manage data. Trying to somehow integrate the islands of data and disparate systems. This was in the Application Era in the 1980s with ERP and CRM solutions. The question the Application Era was answering was “Do you have the data?”.

As the data battle was being won the CIO could leave the application work to technical teams. They could then elevate themselves and start working how the data could help the business. This was the Information Era. In most organisations they are still in the Information Era developing more and more sophisticated reports and dashboards to slice and dice the data . Clearly a huge and profitable market which is why IBM and others have been buying up all the niche BI vendors. The question the Information Era was answering was “Can you make sense of the data?”.

So now the CIO needs to extricate themselves from the BI projects which are becoming overly technical and start to play a strategic role. We are at last entering the Insights Era. Once the CIO grasps this then they can be admitted to the top table because the question the Insights Era was answering is “Can you make decisions based on the information?” And that often requires the right contextual (process) information.

Let me explain with a simple example – the Quote to Order process.

DATA: The data being managed is leads, opportunities, contracts and orders. Having them in one CRM system is the Data Era.

INFORMATION: Being able to report and analyse them gives the sales managers an idea of the potential pipeline and the likely quarterly sales revenue. But it is reactive. The reports shows that sales are likely to be down. Why? is because leads are not being turned into opportunities because of the quality of the leads, or is it the salesteam approach, or something else?

INSIGHTS: To be able to make decisions you need some context. So what is required is a detailed, intimate knowledge of the quote to order process. with the data and metrics attached to process.

This means that the CIO needs to understand the business operations which, for many, is a big scary step from systems which is where many of them grew up with their IT career path. We’re seeing early signs that the CIO’s ideal career path is not up through IT but around the business if the CIO is really going to accepted onto the Board and CIO is not a dead end.

CIOs need to embrace process from a business process. Many of you CIOs may say “But we are taking a business perspective”. I hate to stamp on your fireworks / piss on your stawberries, but you are not. You say process but you are thinking of an IT / business analysis / systems process perspective, which is NOT an end user perspective. If you don’t believe me, read the “Which hat are you wearing?” blog.

My company’s biggest selling blocker is the CIO/IT department, who insist that the business users use (their) IT-driven business modelling tool. This is NOT what the business uses want or need. They refuse to use it and more and more are winning the battle. The loser in the battle is the CIO and their reputation as a business executive.