Redefining the

Once upon a time, the CIO of a company was often known only as the technology person, but as a recent study commissioned by RHI Consulting suggests, the role of the information officer has expanded.

With the technology and business side of the equation now intertwined, the traditional and often-limited role of the CIO has shifted. “The typical, historical role of the CIO has been more exclusively dedicated to the systems aspect of any company and on occasion would be called into more of a strategic role (but) we’re seeing it’s more of a 50-50 split,” said Stephen Hill, the senior regional manager for RHI Consulting in Toronto. The shift has been an important one, he said.

While CIOs are still clearly responsible for the systems aspect of the company, they are now playing a new role in the overall strategy of a company, Hill argued. And it’s no revelation that this evolution has transpired because of the Internet and e-commerce. Three or four years ago, prior to any commerce taking place via the Web, the systems individual would be asked to make the overall system perform specific tasks that sales and marketing needed. Not so anymore. “If you’re a Web-enabled company, then it’s changed the whole thrust of your business,” Hill said. He added that the changes to the responsibilities of a CIO began nearly four years ago.

Ronald James agrees that the CIO of today ends up wearing several hats. James, the CIO for Zurich Insurance in Toronto for the past five years, said the basic responsibilities entailed running mainframes. CIOs were occasionally brought into the business discussion after the decision had already been rendered.

“Now, with the way we’re driving e-commerce being so integrated in the business model, you are a huge part of the way the business model and expenses are produced when you’re moving through distribution,” he said.

For James, the transformation has been monumental. “Its changed from being a technology people that are running a glass house that has some crazy programmers working for them vs. people that are truly business partners who are integrated tightly with the business and are responsible for delivering product to the market.” The CIOs position now requires working with customers, shareholders, analysts and the business itself and remain strategic enough to meet the objectives of the marketplace.

Marc Koehn agrees with James, saying the linkages between technology and business is becoming more critical because “the technology is becoming so pervasive in the business plan.” Koehn, a partner with Cycle24 Systems Group Inc., in Victoria, B.C., believes that in order to execute a job successfully today, “the person has to have skills in both areas – in understanding the technology and the management implications; the operational complexities and at the same time be able to dialogue with the business.”

However, Koehn did express some concerns over the education and training of CIOs. “Someone who has been trained for a four-year (technology) degree might not necessarily have the experience to deal with the business side of the equation.” Often then, he said individuals may add an MBA to bridge the gap. But for those who don’t, it is a process that can take anywhere from five to 15 years of actually being in on the business side.

Ultimately, Koehn believes the successful businesses will be those that are “able to understand that walking between the dividing line (of) what the business is all about and be able to speak intelligently to the IT challenges.”