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There’s no such thing as a CIO.

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Without accountability and responsibility, a CIO exists in name only. A true CIO should be realigned with the wider business and a‚Äčn often-forgotten asset.

Did you know there’s no such thing as a CIO?

To understand why, we need to go back to the basics of business. Every organisation exists to deliver a product or service to its clients, and the organisations that deliver the greatest value for the least possible expenditure of its resources will be in pole position in the marketplace.

What makes this a little simpler (in principle) is the fact that there are only four resources – financial, human, physical and information.

The role of management is to deploy these resource in the best possible way. For example, a chief financial officer is the person responsible and accountable for the deployment of vital financial resources. To make sure they perform in this role, they must have two key characteristics.

  • Firstly, they have genuine accountability. If a CFO mismanages the money of the organisation, they will be sacked; if they misappropriate the money they will be jailed.
  • A CFO also has the ability to delegate tasks to a select number of staff members – you won’t see a CFO spending money on light bulbs and pens directly.

If we look at a CIO, there is neither accountability nor delegated responsibility.

Breaking down the role of a CIO

I have never met a CIO who would be sacked if they didn’t deliver information in a timely and accurate fashion. Similarly, there may be delegated authority to manage the information in an organisation, but that authority is given to every person in the company, as they all use data, information or knowledge to conduct every single business process and decision.

In short, there is no accountability required by the board or leadership team on a single person, and there is very little requirement for individuals to manage information in a manner that is consistent with a vital business asset.

Very few organisations have clearly defined email conventions, filing structures or ways of being able to put information logically in one place and one place only, as you would in a financial chart of accounts.

So, the conclusion that we come to is that a CIO exists in name only – they don’t really manage the information in the organisation and they’re not truly held accountable for it.

Why are so many making this mistake?

When it comes to managing information as a business asset, this isn’t generally done, because it’s not understood at the highest levels of an organisation. How many directors will put into place the governance around a business asset if they don’t understand the value of it and the risk around it?

As a CIO of a very large South African financial institution said to us: if we were able to put the value of information on the balance sheet, suddenly people would be interested.

Directors believe it’s not possible, but even on a very basic level it’s quite easy to do.

As far as determining the cost of managing information is concerned, that can be done just by saying to people “how much time do you waste, and how much time would you gain if you could access the information quickly when you needed it?”

We are working with a legal firm, of which one state office has 150 fee-earners, and they say they can save costs and increase revenue by $2 million a year by finding the information they need in less time.

By improving in this way, 70 per cent of these fee-earners believe they can bill an extra half an hour a day, while 20 per cent believe they can bill an extra hour each day – and that’s at the lower end of the spectrum.

Putting the I back into CIO

If you’re going to become more diligent about information management, you can take a closer look at the information management processes in the organisation and improve that from the ground up. In terms of building accountability and delegated responsibility, that must start from the top down.

It’s not enough to have information governance; there needs to be behaviour change and business processes around information, to ensure people are using data and information as a business asset. From there, it is possible to give somebody true accountability for that information – only then will there be an actual chief information officer.

The volume of information accumulating in organisations continues to grow and with it the chaos of managing it. The time has come to rethink the role of the CIO. So much so, we’ve been called on to discuss the matter at this year’s America’s Conference on Information Systems in Puerto Rico. This is where we’ll publish our Academic Journal while presenting at the conference on 13-15 August.

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