The short history of information technology has seen a couple generations of leaders. Is a third generation now emerging?

First-generation CIOs—often called the “Director of Data Processing”—were the unquestioned rulers of their domains who knew technology well, but little about business. Business leaders acquiesced to IT demands because they were in unfamiliar territory. This era faded around 1980 with the proliferation of desktop computing, and the advent of more technically savvy customers and executives. The ‘80s saw the rise of the CIO, who as “order taker,” was expected to both understand business and serve up scoops of enabling technology; much like Baskin-Robbins scoops up ice cream—and just as quickly, if you please. The job tenure of that CIO averaged three years, as they failed to satisfy the demands of their customer base.

I’ve had the recent pleasure of working in an IT shop run by a new breed of CIO who is on the cusp of the third generation. First, his shop is CMMI Level 3 compliant, with some areas at Level 4. He has all the components you see in most big IT shops, but their charge is different. The architecture group’s charge is maintainability, not the next newest technology to bet on. He has an emerging technology group that must deliver production applications today for the real complex problems, not report on how good it will be when the technology matures. His PMO manages [runs] projects instead of just managing the project plan. He also has a business liaison group where project planning is done with the charge of scope control. He also has a vendor management group that has implemented the “vendor stable” concept, which limits the number of vendors and controls costs.

The real strength of this highly disciplined IT shop is that alongside mainstream development and maintenance resides a “skunk works,” which prototypes applications at the intersection of business needs and technology capabilities. With the CIO as leader, these prototypes are shared with the business community, which provides feedback, resulting in moving ahead or discarding the applications. One recent call center upgrade cost less than $2 million, while another (which was not as good) cost more than $20 million.

Isn’t this new breed of CIO great?

This blog can also be found at InsuranceNetworking.com.

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