The experts (and the marketing guys) tell us that we should be able to succinctly describe what our businesses do in the time it takes to complete a short elevator ride. The patience and attention span of those we meet is short and you never know the opportunity presented by whom you could be riding with.
Similarly, many advise that we should be able to clearly define and convey our role within the organizations that employ us with pithy descriptions. While many in executive ranks wear many hats, people have some understanding of CEO and can even relate to CFO or VP of Sales. But, what is a chief information officer?
In my role as CIO, this is frequently my challenge. Concisely explaining my primary responsibilities in social settings and even sometimes in business settings is nearly impossible. And this is not just my problem. Colleagues frequently tend to simplify introductions by saying that I am manager of information technology for our business. Compounding this question is the confusion of technology titles and differentiation of roles. What is a CIO and what is a CTO (especially in a non-technology business), Director or VP of Technology, or even that ubiquitous manager of IT?
I do not have a magic answer. Instead, I have a theory. Any title bestowed upon an executive relating to technology empowers and conveys commitment to be the technology superhero of an organization. Let me explain with some background.
Early in the 1990s, I used to quote Jim Manzi, formerly of Lotus Corporation, who lamented the billions that were spent during the 1980s on information technology with little improvement in productivity. The late 1990s showed that productivity gains eventually came. Now we are learning many things about IT investments from the last decade. Some recent reading shows that we should be puzzled about our direction.
So what must a technology superhero be accountable for or oversee in today’s corporate environment?
The panic started at Enron and having far reaching marketplace effects is over corporate governance at the largest companies. This is more than about compensation; it is about executive competence. Technology is subject to the same missteps, regardless of the titles bestowed that are often faddish, confusing, and even misguiding. Still, each of our companies should have that technology champion -- a person committed to a fiduciary responsibility of leveraging information and IT to continued and improved business success.
CHAIM YUDKOWSKY, CPA, is president of Byte of Success Inc., a technology consulting company specializing in helping small and mid-size business grow. In addition, he is chief information officer of Textilease Corp., a Beltsville, Md.-based uniform and first-aid services company with a focus on the Southeast. His Byte of Success column explores the world of techology for accountants and finance professionals.
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