CEOs: Seeing CIOs as More than Just ‘Dish Washers’

April 11, 2013
At the 9th Annual MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, one theme that really stood out to me was how CIOs, in all areas, need to transition from simply “doing the dishes” to taking a larger role at the business table. CEOs talked about the importance of data, and why as a result, CIOs must be strategically involved within the company. However, some CIOs are still perceived as mainly those who “do the dishes.” So which is it?

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 9th Annual MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass. on the sprawling, beautiful campus of MIT. The event included featured panels from CIOs across all sectors of business: technology services, healthcare, education, entertainment, and government. One theme that really stood out to me during the course of the day was how CIOs, in all areas, need to transition from simply “doing the dishes” to taking a larger role at the business table.

In the opening keynote panel featuring CEOS talking about the role of the CIO and how their company succeeds through IT innovation, CIO Magazine publisher emeritus Gary Beach cited a few studies which essentially underscored how even with the rapid influx of technology in business, many CIOs are still perceived as dish washers.  “Doing the dishes,” as I understand it, is a metaphor for performing basic IT functions.

However, while the CEOs on the panel, such as Richard Soley, Ph.D, CEO of Object Management Group, a non-profit standards consortium for the computer industry, see the “dishes” as part of the CIO’s role, they also see their need to be strategically involved within the company. Scott Griffith, CEO of rental car company ZipCar, said in his business, information is seen as a competitive advantage. Thus, he says, the CIO or the top tech executive in the company has to have a seat at the business table in order for the company to say competitive.

“We know more about our customers than anyone who is going to enter this business,” Griffith said. “We had four million [car] reservations last year, and shame on us if we didn’t mine data out of those reservations and figure out how to become a better company, drive more business, and become more profitable, and information is a huge part of that. It’s a seat at the table job, and I think every company should be thinking about it as a ‘seat at the table’ job.”

Griffith went on to say he thinks the top information jobs is going to be more strategic focused, and that person needs to be business oriented, and think “bigger and broader.”

We hear about this kind of thing in healthcare all of the time. With the ongoing federal mandates coming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act/Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (ARRA/HITECH), the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and elsewhere, CIOs in hospitals and other healthcare providers have been asked to take a larger role in strategic decision-making. In the recent survey conducted by Fitch Ratings, a New York City-based global rating agency, the majority of nonprofit hospitals expect capital spending to either increase, and most of them are going to spend their money on IT.

I thought about what Griffith said, and how it applied to healthcare. Information, for hospitals, can provide an immense competitive advantage. When you think about the mandatory readmission reductions program under the ACA, you think about hospitals using data to do better in this area. At least, I know I do. In this day and age, with all of the investments you see in technology, it’s hard for me to believe that some company leaders still only see the top IT guys as dish washers.  However, it appears from those aforementioned surveys, this is still the case for some.

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