The ‘I’ in CIO is for Information



The Strategic Brief:

For the last sixty years, the title for the person in charge of IT should really have been the Chief Digitization Officer rather than Chief Information Officer (CIO). Today’s technology enables the CIO to focus on information as well as technology. As CIO, you must own the connection of your customers to your business – the customer experience (CX). Personalizing this experience will require collecting more information about your customers. There are multiple information collection approaches, and you must select those that will give you sufficient details, and more importantly match the type of relationship desired with your customers.



For decades, the purpose of information technology was to capture and store information about the business. The 1957 Hepburn/Tracy classic “Desk Set” tells the story of “two extremely strong personalities clashing over the digitization of a TV network’s research department.” (1) In the film, the news research department was humans, books, papers and all of that knowledge was being digitized. Digitizing existing information was all the rage.

google-ngram-frequency-of-cio-1920-2000

Chief Information Officers (CIO) have existed since World War II, yet for the first seventy years it may have been more accurate to call them Chief Digitization Officers. They were responsible for taking processes and information from analog to digital. Now, with mobile applications and the internet of things (IoT), the job is changing enough that they are finally earning the ‘I’ in the title.

For decades, CIO’s spent most of their time on acquiring real estate to house computers; operating the computers, networks and storage; developing or buying needed software; connecting devices to the centralized systems; and managing the people needed to make all this happen. IT was really digitizing existing processes – instead of bank tellers handwriting deposits in giant tomes with manually totaled results, they entered the deposit into a computer. Companies did not learn that much more about their customers, they were merely digitizing existing information. In simple terms, that early CIO focused on the ‘technology’ part of information technology, not on the information part.

Leap forward sixty years to 2016’s omnipresent mobile applications and accompanying personalization. IT now moves well beyond the role of digitizing processes into owning the connection of the business to the customer. The new CIO will now own the frontline customer experience (CX). Customer experience personalization is a crucial survival tenet for 2016.

In addition to all the technical responsibilities above, the CIO must now focus on the ‘information’ part of IT. To support customer experience, and in particular personalization, a business must collect and understand significantly more information about the customer. A critical component of customer trust will be clearly explaining why you are collecting and using the information and how you are protecting the customer during and after collection. (This is so important, it will get a separate article with deeper analysis soon).

With each generation in society, the relationship between a customer and a business becomes more digital than IRL (2). Take the example of enterprise software vendors in a sales cycle for a new technology. Previously, the vendor team would visit the client and explain the new technology to initiate the sales process. Today enterprise IT staff use the internet and social networks to discover and research new technologies. Once the technology is identified, the IT team seek out the vendors offering the needed features. Most of the sales cycle is done before a salesperson even enters the conversation. Technology supporting self service is only the first step in IT involvement in the customer experience.

The takeaway is that while existing information must still be aggregated and connected, significantly more new information must also be attained to support improving the customer experience. This is now a key requirement for the business relationship with customers, and must be handled with finesse. Base how you will collate information on the nature of the relationship you want with your customers. We can transform our relationships with our customers by making the technology part of IT take a step back and focusing on the information part. The CIO is finally earning the ‘information’ part of their title.

  1. For fun, compare how computers are portrayed in that film versus the ‘Mr Robot’ TV series. For more fun, compare Hepburn’s job to Google.
  2. In Real Life

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