Intelligence, Integration or Innovation: The New I in CIO

Our Carey Head explains what it takes to be CIO — and why we should re-imagine the I in CIO. It’s about Intelligence, Integration and Innovation. — It’s time to replace the I in CIO.

Chief Information Officers don’t just manage information anymore. They’re information experts — cross-departmental resources who help to maximize the strategic value of their company’s information assets. I’m not saying we should drop the I altogether; just redefine it.

Why not something more descriptive, using a word like intelligence, integration or innovation? I could get behind that.

aND 14th Century Brain Image

Fourteenth century brain rendering by unknown artist: Wikimedia Commons.

Data on its own is not enough to arm an enterprise — nor a successful CIO. It must be actionable data. And knowing how to acquire and act upon information requires intelligence. Without it, CIOs simply can’t remain competitive in today’s market.

Part of that intelligence involves situational awareness, especially in an age of rapid change where success is determined by fractional improvements — not huge margins. Data is a commodity now, and a good CIO must know how to intelligently leverage his company’s assets.

But maybe there’s a still more nuanced replacement for ‘Information’ — how about ‘Chief Integration Officer’?

The intelligent CIO must also oversee the integration of information between departments. Why? Because the technical procedures in every department are becoming more specialized. So it’s up to the CIO to understand the unique systems of each silo, and to ensure that intelligence flows smoothly between them.

Then again, maybe creativity — or innovation — is what really sets a fantastic CIO apart. Because knowing how to leverage and integrate information are only part of the puzzle — CIOs must also be able to recognize trends and innovate accordingly.

Innovative CIOs are especially essential now, when a company’s technology on its own is rarely remarkable. True innovation springs from the interaction between disciplines, from the needs of diverse departments, and from the changes in a rapidly evolving industry. It’s a rare executive who can react to all those things at once.

Come to think of it, today’s CIO is not unlike the traditional role of a Chief Operations Officer (COO). But where the COO must execute business processes, the CIO must execute information processes. That involves both acquiring information and implementing technology to leverage it in novel ways. It’s a profoundly changing institution, but the smart CIO can use that dynamism to his or her advantage. And hopefully gain a fractional edge over competitors in the process.