"What's in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet."
With the plethora of new C-level titles and the infighting going on between some of them, it’s not surprising that some CIOs are looking for other, ever more grandiose things to call themselves. And while it might strike you as a silly waste of time, there’s value in it. Shakespeare aside, people such as George Lakoff have done a lot of research into “framing,” or political messaging to reflect personal and group values. It turns out there’s a huge importance in the aspect of being the one in control of what you are named and how you are perceived.
“Too often the perception is that the CIO is a glorified geek,” writes Pearl Zhu in the "Future of CIO" blog. “The reality is that the CIO is one of the most important executive roles in the organization.” She goes on to lay out a whole series of components of CIO, including “insight,” “intrapreneur,” “interpretation,” and “imagination.”
“You might think that so much time spent on promotions and titles places too much importance and focus on silly formalisms,” writes Ben Horowitz in Fortune. “The opposite is actually true. Without a well-thought out, disciplined process for titles and promotions, your employees will become obsessed with the resulting inequities.” Moreover, he says, an inappropriate title can hurt your career down the line. “While you may plan to work at your company forever, at least some of your employees need to plan for life after your company,” he continues. “When your head of sales interviews for her next job, she won't want to say that despite the fact that she ran a global sales force with hundreds of employees, her title was ‘Dude.’”
So let’s look at some of those alternative meanings for CIO.
The most common is Chief Innovation Officer, which can be instead of or in addition to Chief Information Officer. The advantage is that it sounds higher level, and gives the impression of having more of an emphasis on re-engineering business processes — particularly in organizations where “CIO” is being denigrated as “Chief Infrastructure Officer,” or “spending significant resources on the maintenance and upgrade of basic technology infrastructure,” with little to no involvement in innovation at all.
On the other hand, the disadvantage of having a chief innovation officer is that it implies that there’s one guy, or one department, in charge of being “innovative.” In reality, for a company to be innovative, it needs to develop a culture of innovation, in which everyone participates.
Similar to innovation, we also have “Chief Inspiration Officer,” whose position requires not only developing a vision but communicating that vision to the company, inspiring them as well.
Some people suggest that CIO should mean “Chief Integration Officer,” by which they mean not integration of hardware and software products from multiple vendors, but aligning the business and technology priorities. “When CIOs let someone else lead this integration, it often spells disaster for them and their departments because it perpetuates the perception that business-IT alignment remains a problem,” writes Jack Bergstrand in (of course) CIO.
In 2008, Computerworld postulated the “Chief Intelligence Officer,” which sounds to a certain extent like what people are calling today the Chief Data Officer or Chief Digital Officer. "This new breed of IT executive will develop and oversee how companies collect, store, combine, share, analyze and capitalize on their most valuable corporate asset — huge volumes of data," the magazine writes about its interview with Accenture chief scientist Kishore Swaminathan (who sounds pretty darn prescient, actually). But aside from being subsumed into CDO, it does have a kind of Spy vs. Spy flavor to it.
On a power trip? You could always go for “Chief Influencing Officer,” though as Zhu describes it, that component of CIO is the antithesis. “The role of the CIO is to push the focus away from politics and back towards performance,” she writes. “Retool business culture via optimizing processes with the latest technology tools, as too much time is spent on "internal politics" that have little relevance for customers and investors. Nothing garners influence like delivering the goods time after time. Negative politics rarely adds shareholder value — performance does. So the role is to deliver business growth through technology, innovation and cost efficiency.”
Some organizations, such as cities, have been setting up “Chief Integrity Officers.” But aside from sounding a bit twee, some of these integrity officers have apparently been having problems with their own integrity — plus, it’s pretty far removed from IT.
On the other hand, if you’re willing to completely move away from the “Chief I… Officer” locution, there’s some other interesting alternatives. Take Continuous Improvement Opportunity. Like the notion of Agile development, it’s based on the notion of “continuous improvement,” or the Japanese term Kaizen, or looking for the opportunity to constantly make small improvements rather than occasionally making big giant ones — which could fall through. While staff would probably roll their eyes at you for actually putting it on a business card as your title, there’s nothing wrong with keeping the alternative meaning in mind as your plan — just keep it to yourself.
In general, it’s important to consider the way other people might think about your definition. For example, you might like the thought of the Command Issuing Office. But In an era where people are bringing their own devices to work and setting up shadow IT organizations with cloud storage and analytics because they find the IT department too slow and oppressive, is that really the sort of impression you want to convey?
Ensure that whatever meaning you pick, it’s relevant and useful for the future. Otherwise, you may find yourself Crying It Out because your Career Is Over.
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