From Data to Information to Insights: Changing Role of #CIO

There was a time not too long ago (late 1970s to be precise) when companies use to have Electronic Data Processing department and EDP Managers to manage data processing function. EDP department evolved to become Management Information Systems department in early 1980s and MIS Manager ran the show when it came to ‘computerization’ initiatives as it used to be called back then.

As technology evolved from mainframes to client-server computing and with the rise of personal computers (PCs) or desk-tops, adoption of information technology across organization picked up pace and IT was no longer limited to key business processes such as accounting and inventory management.

With expansion of computer networks and growth of the internet in 1990s, increasing number of business processes started getting ‘computerized’ resulting in decentralization of information technology and companies started moving away from having a ‘centralized’ EDP or MIS department for managing their IT functions. This decentralization of MIS (or IT) received boost with development of ‘business friendly’ software applications that just needed to be customized to meet business requirements rather than developing them from a scratch. Case in point – ERP or CRM systems.

But although key functions of MIS department were decentralized due to rapid expansion of information technology within the organization, there was need for a role to monitor and guide the adoption and use of information technology tools across organization in order to make sure that multitude of systems that were being developed ‘talked’ to each other and followed consistent organizational standards when it came to development and usage. Role of Chief Information Officer (or CIO) evolved to meet this need and most large and medium sized companies started having CIO function or role since middle of 1990s.

Role of CIOs gained importance with the expansion of internet and growth of web enabled business applications during dot com boom. And CIO’s function became critical during the outsourcing boom following dot com bust in early 2000s as growing number of CEOs relied upon their CIOs (and their ‘twin’ brother CTOs) not only to manage growing complexity of enterprise IT but also to manage it in a cost effective manner through outsourcing. As a result, CIO’s role became critical within most large and medium sized companies in the last ten years.

But as ‘short’ history of information technology can tell us that only thing that is constant in IT is change. And change at even faster pace with each passing year. To confirm, just consider changes that have taken place in IT over the past few years. We have seen IT evolve at an even faster pace, thanks to rapid growth and adoption of cloud computing, mobile devices, social media and explosion at the rate at which data is being generated by end users resulting in phenomenon that is now known as ‘Big Data’.

Add to this the fact that technology is becoming even more business and end-user friendly. Just as an example, because of cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS) model, some of the work that was done traditionally by CIO’s or CTO’s organization is now being done by outside service providers with help from functional executives in user departments. To cite another example, CMOs or key executives in marketing department of large and medium sized companies are working directly with vendors with minimal inputs from CIO or CTO of their organization to leverage social media for multi-channel marketing or customer engagement. This growing ‘consumerization’ of technology has resulted in erosion of the clout or influence CIOs had in their respective organization just a few years back.

So the question is how can CIOs regain past glory of their role? In my opinion, best way Chief Information Officers (Or CIOs) can regain past glory of their role is to adopt and grow with changing technology and evolve to become Chief Insights Officer – still a CIO! As more and more applications get migrated to cloud and with enterprise apps and data residing in cloud managed mostly by third party service providers, ‘traditional’ functions performed by CIOs are being performed by third party vendors. But what has not changed is the need for ‘quality’ information in a timely manner to aid in decision making across organization. With more data being generated outside the organization than within the organization, such as social media data, there is a need for someone at a senior level to not only monitor but guide the organization as to how data are collected, stored and most importantly analyzed in a timely manner to aid in decision making. Given the volume, velocity and variety of data being generated, it is no longer enough just to prepare ‘simple’ reports, but to derive critical insights in real time from available data, both from internal and external sources. And in my opinion, no one is better prepared to take on this challenge other than good old Chief Information Officer.

So Dear Chief Information Officer, are you ready to take on the role of Chief Insights Officer?

Please share your thoughts

comments

  • Meta Brown

    Harish,

    This is some pretty extreme evolution that you’re suggesting. I can appreciate that organizations need leadership to provide thoughtful data insights – analysis – but why on earth would you see that as the role for those with a history in the CIO role? Most CIOs have little or no training or experience in statistics, data mining or any other field of analytical mathematics. Insights is intimately tied to marketing, another topic that is not up the CIO’s alley. The Insights function should be led by someone who has knowledge of the end customers of the business – CIOs don’t have that.

    In fact, much of the worst advice about analytics comes out of IT departments, where valuable data is habitually discarded by staff who think they know what they’re doing and nobody will ever need that data. I see this all the time – so often that I have written articles (like this one = The CEO Wants Analytics: Now What? http://bit.ly/smartdata020) and given talks for IT people around the country, hoping to help them kick the bad habits that will surely get them fired when their employer brings in a CMO or a real Customer Insights leader.

    If CIO want jobs, they should get some insights into what their own internal customers want, and make the IT function work so well that businesses stop wanting to outsource or eliminate them.

    Meta Brpwn
    http://www.metabrown.com

  • Thanks @metabrown312 for your insightful comment. I agree with you that Chief Insights Officer should know analytics/statistics. But that is just one skill that is required for the job. More importantly, CIO’s role also involves balancing among competing stake holders in a complex, political environment in an organization – any one who has worked on a large IT project can vouch for this. Current generation of CIOs have this skill. So it is important to know statistics, it is equally important if not more to work with different groups in any organization and make them agree on a common approach to a solution. A person trained in statistics can be a great aid to CIO – but that doesn’t quality him for chief insights officer position based just on his/her stat skills.

    Thanks again for your comment,

    Harish Kotadia, Ph.D.