CIO of the future: Innovator or ERP baby sitter?

As infrastructure and applications continue to migrate to outsourcers and into the cloud, IT should be taking the lead in business process innovation. CIOs should be playing a key role in identifying opportunities and figuring out how to drive products to market sooner. But, despite all of the success stories one hears from speakers at conferences, IT executives can be heard muttering that in their own organizations they have been pushed to the periphery in such discussions. Too often, the road to business process transformation runs around IT -- not through it. IT may execute, but it does not lead.

Part of the issue has to do with how IT has been branded. "What is IT? When you ask senior business executives, most will only recognize core technology," such as desktops and ERP, says "Joe," the CIO of a large industrial manufacturer I met at a recent conference, and who declined to be identified. While CIOs speaking at such events may talk about how their own IT organization is leading the charge toward business process innovation, IT organizations that span into the product side are the rarities.

IT's identity crisis has always been a big problem for any CIO's career prospects. But now, as the core IT functions that business management associates with IT continue to get peeled off to outsourcers and cloud service providers, IT organizations that aren't driving business process innovation will face a dismal future. "Before you know it you'll be babysitting the ERP system -- until someone figures out how to lift it from you," Joe says.

In this CIO's company the situation had a happy ending. Until recently, business process optimization resided in a separate Six Sigma organization that didn't report to the CIO. But over the last three years the firm has consolidated all of its Six Sigma Black Belts under the CIO -- including those working on business process improvement. "It should be our role," Joe says.

"IT has the execution capacity and drives the ultimate improvements and controls that the business puts in place," he says, so it's only natural to move the function within IT.

IT won that responsibility after the CIO gradually guided top management to conclude that it made sense. But will your business listen?

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