Should CIO Be a Part-Time Job?

punch-card_featured2Forgive me if the title of this article elevated your blood pressure or caused undue anxiety. The goal here is not to discount the role of the CIO in today’s business environment but to point out the fact that, in many companies, that role has significantly changed.

Almost every company is becoming technology-centric, with digital solutions driving their supply chains and revenue streams. As IT moves front and center in all functions, the CIO must now not only have technical knowledge but true business DNA. Going forward, that need will alter org charts, as well as the backgrounds of those who occupy the CIO seats.

Some progressive companies have already shaken things up—transforming their traditional organizational structures, based on changing business objectives. The result? A new breed of hybrid CIO, otherwise known as the CIO “and” position. A fresh approach that’s delivering big benefits to companies who dare to step outside of the organizational box.

CIO and Operations: The Chocolate and Peanut Butter of McAfee

“Every company goes through different phases and levels of change,” said Patty Hatter, CIO and senior vice president of Operations for McAfee. “I’m a big believer in the scope of the change dictating the kind of organizational structure you need to enable. It all comes down to two simple questions: What is it we want to accomplish and how do we have to organize to make that happen?”

For McAfee, it was single position responsible for both IT and operations.

“When I came to the company, it was difficult to get things done. The business processes across the organization were flawed, and because of it, the IT department struggled and was often blamed as the sole source of the problem,” Hatter said. “I think many companies have the same issue. They implement a lot of technology, but because that technology isn’t aligned to real-world business processes, it doesn’t get them anywhere.”

By combining the role of CIO and SVP of operations, the same person accountable for how the company works is also responsible for the infrastructure that supports it. The potential for turf wars and hidden agendas greatly decline.

The result? Real progress.

“With this organizational structure, we don’t have one person focused solely on the details of technology. Instead, we look at what we need to do as a company and how we want to spend our money to realize our business goals. Then, we align our technology to those goals,” Hatter said. “It sounds so simple, but it’s the place where a lot of enterprises fail.”

And those process changes that come with implementing new technology? With her combined role, Hatter is accountable for that, too. So, things don’t fall through the cracks.

If you’re still not buying into the premise, take a long hard look at what McAfee has been able to accomplish in the two years Hatter has held these dual roles.

“In the past two years, we have been able to drive down IT spend per employee by 7 percent, which exceeds the Gartner FY13 peer average. We’ve achieved a 20 percent increase in operations productivity and we’ve increased the percentage of IT spend on new capabilities by 20 percent,” Hatter said. “I have to say, those numbers even surprised me.”

More Winning Combos Emerging Everyday

McAfee is not the only company where the CIO takes on dual roles. Different and successful combinations are emerging every day, including:

  • CIO and SVP, Operations
  • CIO and Group Head, Global Business Services
  • CIO and SVP, Specialty Business
  • CIO and SVP, Customer Care Shared Services
  • CIO and Head of Business Transformation
  • CIO and Chief Innovation Officer
  • CIO and SVP, Customer Service
  • CIO and Supply Chain Officer

The combinations are not as important as the shift in corporate mindset they represent. The island of IT is reconnecting with mainland corporations. The car body is merging with the engine that takes it where it needs to go.

We’re even seeing new, rather unexpected career paths emerge. Most notably, CIO Michael Relich of Guess Inc. recently accepted the role of COO for the company. His appointment and others underscore the fact that the lines between technology and the business processes they support are finally beginning to blur. For real.

Articulating without the Acronyms

Of course, not every CIO has the qualifications, nor the desire, to take on a dual role. But this much is certain: the days of the pure tech-head, acronym-slinging IT exec are numbered. Why? Well, the rest of us aren’t so scared of technology anymore.

Although business’ reliance on technology has grown exponentially greater and the issues solved with technology more complex, users are far more comfortable with technology than ever before. Today, almost everyone, from five-year-olds to Great Grandma Perkins, can log in, search, post and process information with relative ease.

We don’t know how it works. We don’t care how it works. At work or at home, we all focus on one thing: How can technology make our lives better, more efficient, more productive and more successful?

The business-savvy CIO who can articulate that answer and who is as invested in what the business does as the technology that supports it is the CIO of the future—whether he or she plays a single role or dual role.

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