It's month three of my mission to build CIO support for UK startups and, unlucky for you, my missionary zeal has not dampened. If anything some interesting conversations this week have given it added impetus and made me even more passionate about it. None of these conversations have been with CIOs or have even really been about technology. They have however been with C-level business decision-makers within big brands both in the UK and the US.
The most significant of these discussions was with B. Bonin Bough, vice president of Global Media and Consumer Engagement at Mondelez International, formerly part of the Kraft food group, over in New York. Bough is the architect behind a fascinating and groundbreaking project currently being undertaken by Mondelez called Mobile Futures. My conversation with him will form the basis for next month's article so I am not going to divulge too much at this stage, but it did get me thinking about how the CIO and his department is regarded by other executives across the business.
'Perception is truth' as some-time rock guitarist and Republican political advisor Lee Atwater once said. If that's true then from what I have heard CIOs need to start changing their perceptions. What I have heard over and over again from senior marketers, business strategists and business development leaders is that CIOs are all too often seen as a barrier to innovation. In fact the IT department in general is an organisation that is seen as something to get around, negotiated with and, if at all possible, avoided.
I find this profoundly sad. As someone who can remember when the role of CIO was invented I am shocked at how quickly it as gone from being at the forefront of everything that was new and exciting to little more than a glorified facilities manager in the eyes of so many people. One person I spoke to (who shall remain nameless) told me that the CIO in his organisation was like a cross between a bank manager and a Conservative backbencher - risk averse, allergic to change, reminiscing of the good old 'Maggie' days and with 'no' as the default response to pretty much anything that might change the status quo.
I can see where the cynicism comes from. Too many years of IT deployments that over-promise and under-deliver combined with a new breed of tech savvy business leader who wants more of what he has outside work inside the office, has created a level of impatience and distrust that has damaged the credibility of the CIO within many organisations. The result is that all too often when innovation is happening within a business the input of the CIO is minimal at best.
I have said this before and I'll say it again - the CIO should be right at the heart of any project that seeks to transform and innovate in any area of the business. The reason a CIO is called a CIO is because they should own the information. Any kind of change programme should have information at the heart of it whether that data is from within the business or external - analysis of customer behaviours, for example.
What is interesting is that when it comes to innovation these days most of it seems to be driven by marketing. This is perhaps hardly surprising in itself - the biggest changes in the business world over the last few years have been around channels to market, the customer and more effective communications driven by insight. Unsurprisingly then there is also a lot being written about the relationship between IT and marketing. An interesting piece by Adam Dennison, Why CMOs won't control your IT budget, on this title's website highlights the fact that a lot is being made of how CMOs and CIOs are working together and whether the CMO is in fact a threat to the CIO's control over technology spending.
The piece highlights for me one of the key issues as regards the perception of CIOs. One of the points that Bough made when I interviewed him was that: "CIOs spend too much time worrying about whether a new technology company is still going to be around in 12 months time." There is no doubt that issues like that need to be considered, but all too often they are an excuse to maintain the status quo. And here is where I disagree slightly with Adam's piece - is the CIO's role just about reducing risk and managing standards and security, or should it also be about taking calculated risks, encouraging innovation and being a catalyst for change?