Lizards and birds: the evolutionary future of the CIO

The CIO first appeared in the 1970s, gradually growing in stature and power until reaching its peak of influence at the turn of the century as the millennium bug threatened life as we know it. However, the ecosystem has changed profoundly in the past three years and the CIO is now an endangered species. The next evolution of the CIO will see the species divide into two separate families: lizards and birds.

According to Gary Barnett, lizards and birds will have very different roles, and very different budgets within end-user organisations, and selling to them will require very different approaches.


 

The extinction of the CIO

The role of the CIO is facing extinction and environmental factors require this beast to evolve if it is to survive as a meaningful creature. So what are the changes that will result in the extinction of the CIO? There are two huge drivers that are pushing the classical CIO towards terminal decline.

Firstly, the erroneous belief that all innovation depends on technology has now been replaced by an atmosphere of deep cynicism. Commentators like Nicholas Carr (who wrote the seminal article IT doesn’t matter for the Harvard Business Review in 2003) are calling time on the deeply ingrained belief that ‘technology = competitive edge’.

Carr argues (most recently in his book Does IT matter?) that IT is now a commodity that is only capable of delivering very short-term competitive advantage.

However, Carr’s thesis misses a crucial point. While it is clear that a huge proportion of the IT that we have and use provides no differentiation at all – a small proportion of it can provide us with a significant commercial advantage, if properly exploited. The secret lies not in giving up on IT innovation as Carr proposes, but in figuring out which IT is a commodity and which IT is capable of delivering competitive advantage.

The only intelligent response for technology users is not to give up on technology as a means of obtaining strategic advantage, but instead to focus on business processes and apply technology to those processes in a discriminating manner according to the level of competitive differentiation that they deliver.

The second factor that will lead to the extinction of the CIO is the growing gulf between ‘the business’ and the IT department. This is by no means a new issue. Indeed, concerns about the ability of IT to properly deliver business requirements (or from the other point of view, concerns about the ability of the business to properly express its requirements) have been with us since the mainframe was first switched on a little over 40 years ago. For four decades we’ve watched this gap widening without actually achieving any success in bridging it. We have made countless half-hearted attempts, but early enthusiasm quickly fades as we discover that solving this problem is going to require a lot more effort than we are willing to put in.

These challenges are too much for the CIO. This lumbering beast has been dimly aware for years that the key to delivering value lies in establishing much closer links to the business and in differentiating between IT as a commodity and IT as a competitive weapon. However, it has been manifestly unable to revise its technological view of the universe.


Enter evolution

The genus CIO is in the process of splitting into two new species: lizards and birds. Lizards will be responsible for the delivery of core IT and will be solely measured on the level of service they deliver and the amount of money they spend to deliver it. Lizards will be the unsung heroes of IT, playing a largely unnoticed role (unless things go wrong) in ensuring that the enterprise continues to function. Despite their value and importance, lizards are unlikely to make it to the boardroom – let alone the big corner office with a big brass plaque saying ‘CEO’ on the door.

Birds, on the other hand, will wear suits not lab coats. They will be responsible for business processes, innovation and change management. They will not be measured in terms of cost, but in terms of return on investment (ROI). Birds will be allowed to spend money on innovation, provided it results in definite business results. They will sit on the board, and will stand as good a chance as any of getting the top job. For the most part, lizards will report to birds. Birds also don’t necessarily need to have a technical background; they can come from commercial or supporting functions within the enterprise. Their talent lies not in understanding the intricacies of technology, but in understanding what it is that the business needs to do in order to differentiate itself. They can then work with the lizard to figure out what this means from a technical perspective.

Lizards buy technology, birds buy business outcomes

This splitting of the genus CIO has an important impact on the way technologies and solutions should be sold. Lizards are not in the business of taking risks: they don’t buy ‘solutions’, they buy technology. Lizards have to justify expenditure within a single budget period, and lizards know the cost of everything. Selling to lizards will be primarily about cost and risk. They need reassurance that your proposition is going to save them money without putting their SLA-based performance targets at risk.

Birds, on the other hand, are most concerned with innovation and business process change. Birds don’t want to hear about technology, and they are deeply sceptical about the word ‘solution’ – what they want to know is how the business will benefit.

The shift from a technology sale to one focused on business outcomes is a considerable one. Technology companies and service providers have long used the term ‘solution’ when they have sought to beef up a technology sale. You cannot create a business outcome-based message simply by throwing some technology into a colourful box. Business outcome selling demands that you understand precisely what the goals of the prospect are, and at times you will have to do this even when the prospect isn’t completely clear about their goals.


Service providers have to recognise the breed they’re dealing with, and tailor their pitch accordingly

In order to sell services to lizards and birds, the first key task is to identify the breed that you’re dealing with. If your prospect is terribly concerned about the hardware that you’ll be using then the chances are you’re talking to a lizard. If your prospect wants to know about innovation and ROI, and is capable of talking to you about their requirement for more than a minute without mentioning IBM, Sun or Microsoft, then you’re probably talking to a bird.

Lizards will need to be reassured by the technical excellence of your solution and will expect you to demonstrate that you can run things efficiently by offering keen pricing. Lizards will want you to commit to aggressive cost reduction and, provided you manage their expectations correctly, you should be able to make the link between price reduction and operational stability.

Birds will need to be reassured that you can help them innovate by delivering new technologies without all of the flesh-wounds that ‘bleeding edge’ technology usually cause. Birds will want flexible agreements that contain a framework to manage change; they will not want to be caged by a monolithic agreement which penalises them every time they want to change it.

In many respects this separation of priorities is a good thing – we’ve been encouraging end users and service providers to draw a distinction between utility functions and differentiating functions. Utility functions are stable and can be subject to tightly drawn agreements. Differentiating functions, on the other hand, encapsulate the competitive edge of the client, and flexibility is essential here in order for the organisation to innovate and to gain the birds’ confidence.

 

 

Gary Barnett is the Research Director responsible for Ovum's research into open source, intellectual property and on-demand technology, focusing on the strategic issues surrounding technology selection, best practice and strategy. He has written and contributed to many ovum reports, including: The road to on-demand; UK financial services sector: the market for software and IT services; Linux: into the mainstream; Application servers: creating the web-enabled enterprise; and Ovum evaluates: enterprise middleware. Gary is frequently quoted in the worldwide trade press and writes columns for several IT-related publications. He is a well-known speaker at conferences on topics as varied as 'The future of the CIO', 'IT doesn't matter?' and outsourcing.


Related Categories




Related Topics




Related Articles


2010 CIO Study - Implications for IT Managers

CIO role is changing - from IT leadership to business leadership. What does all this mean to IT managers? To operations managers, development managers, strategy and architecture leaders? Read On!

2010 IBM Voice of the CIO Study

2010 cio study, 2010 cio survey ibm, cio survey, cio study, cio, chief information officer, role of the cio, changing role of the cio, emerging role of the cio

An Emerging Organizational Model for the CIO Role

This paper advances a formal organizational structure in which the typical responsibilities of the CIO position are “re-allocated” to two IS executives – the CIO and the Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

CIO as a Venture Capitalist

CIO 3.0 is upon us. No longer are CIOs heads of technology, or enabler of business, they are driving business strategy. Is there a need to change the paradigm for the CIO Role to that of a business strategist? Can elements of other business roles hel...

CIO as Innovation Leader

This presentation discusses the role and responsibilities of an innovation leader - do CIOs fit the bill?

CIO Challenges and Opportunities

Despite ample evidence that the world at large and CEOs in particular want CIOs to elevate their game beyond technology stewardship, some have their head in the cloud! This presentation provides a timely reminder that for the CIO to be relevant, the ...

CIO Challenges and Opportunities (2)

This presentation provides a succinct snapshot of the challenges facing a modern CIO and pithy advice, from a CIO, on meeting them head on. Good read.

CIO Responsibilities and Challenges

 This report discusses the responsibilities, reporting relationships, tenure, and challenges of Chief Information Officers in the federal government. Excellent discussions that can help guide the CIO role even in the private sector.

How do Perceptions of IT’s Performance Get Formed?

This case study looks at a "top performing IT organization, intimately responsible for the success of the corporation, yet being perceived by much of senior management as an overhead that was costly and ineffective. The paper suggests some reasons as...

Meeting the CIO Challenge

IT organizations perceived as cost centers good for deploying and maintaining information technology applications and tools. This perception not only limits the role of the IT organization but also severely hinders its ability to create business valu...

Next Generation CIOs

 This report examines the role of CIOs in restructuring how work is conducted throughout the organization.

The 21st Century CIO

  A 21st Century CIO must recognize that "business" wants to control IT so they must partner with the business.

The Future of Corporate IT

How to Prepare for Five Radical Shifts in IT Value, Ownership, and Role? Read On>>

The Innovative CIO - How IT Leaders Can Drive Business Value

This paper discusses the role a CIO can play in driving business value through innovation - the single best way to get a seat at the table. As the demand grows for the CIO to become business leaders so does the need for a CIO to understand what is me...

The Role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO)

This article highlights the developing role of the chief information officer (CIO) – an increasingly significant business role that has developed in recent years from being a technically-oriented support function to a commercially-focused part of th...

The Role of the CIO

This academic paper discusses the skills and responsibilities of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) role.

To Whom Should the CIO Report?

The authors argue that the ideal CIO reporting structure should be contingent on the firm’s strategy.

What a CEO Wants from Their CIO?

This presentation discusses the evolving role of the CIO - from head of the IT function to a business leader, the journey has taken many twists, and turns - , how the CIO role is being shaped by the CEO's requirements, and what is the current CIO Rol...

What CEOs Expect of CIOs?

This article provides insights about what CEOs expect of the CIO and the IT function, drawing on interviews with CEOs of high technology companies located in Silicon Valley. Actions by senior IT executives to more closely align their behaviors with ...




Posted on 06/02/2009 by


Lizards and birds: the evolutionary future of the CIO author sourabhhajela

sourabhhajela




Signup For ThoughtLeader









Subscribe


CIO Index

Our Focus is On Your Agenda

CIO Index is the world's largest professional network for CIOs - of the CIO, for the CIO, by the CIO. 

Over 70,000 CIOs and other IT Executives use CIO Index to Learn, Network and Share.

 

Cioindex, Inc.

  • (+1) 800-309-3550
  • Mon - Fri 9:00am - 5:00 pm
  • 115 Franklin Tpke, Mahwah, NJ 07430