Should Businesses Split the CIO Role in Two?


As the debate whether CIOs are strategic or tactical rages on, Bain's top IT consultant suggests dividing those duties into two distinct positions. Could it happen? On top of their strategic role, CEOs largely operate externally—that is, hand-holding partners, advertisers, customers, etc.

Back at the office, the COO devotes his/her time to the tactical operations of the company. In other words, keeping the trains running.

Plenty of experts say that IT should be run like a business within the business. Rudy Puryear, a Bain Consulting partner and head of the firm's IT practice, is one of them. And he believes that to truly fulfill that promise, IT organizations may need to split the CIO role to reflect the CEO/COO dynamic.

CIOs today struggle with a delicate balancing act: planning for the future all while keeping the lights on. Strategic and tactical concerns tend to fall straight onto their plate. "We just cram all of that into one role," Puryear told me. And that forces the IT chief to prioritize one or the other.

So why not just split the CIO's duties? Titles aside, businesses can appoint one executive to plan IT strategy and another to execute. Some could argue that division creates more bureaucracy, but it could actually boost efficiency. And it'll go a long way to improving IT's perception across the business.

The reality is that many CIOs feel comfortable being a tactician. But others want their strategic skills to be recognized by their C-level colleagues. In that view, splitting the role makes sense.

On the other hand, most CIOs already have deputies who worry about tactical matters. How easy is it to rewrite the job descriptions to have two equal partners in the IT shop?

Tell us, IT leaders: would you benefit from having a clear strategical-vs.-tactical distinction in your job? And would your corporate executives go for the idea?


6 Comments for "Should Businesses Split the CIO Role in Two?"

  • Ken Bainey July 10, 2008 6:33 pm

    I am sorry to say that this author has a lot to learn about the practical aspects of IT. I will make two statements, and will leave it up to the author to finally realize theory from practice in this dynamically changing IT environment. Firstly- "The future cannot be predicted using the perfect rational choice." Secondly- "Strategic management cannot be detached from everyday management. It is the events of everyday management that provide the relevant information to guide strategic management."

  • Virgil Bierschwale June 26, 2008 9:15 am

    Actually I believe the role of CIO needs to be done away with and that the business process stakeholders need to work together to drive the IT process at their company while working with legal and compliance to make sure that they are meeting any regulatory requirements. After all, who knows the business better then the process owners themselves, and who else should be forging the directions that the company needs to go in?

  • Ashraf Ghonaim June 25, 2008 2:39 pm

    In my view the split should not be between IT strategy and IT tactics. The split should be between 'I' and 'T'. CIO should focus on information needs (ERP, BI, Analytics, etc.) while CTO should focus on the technology infra-structure (HW and Operation). To me they are entirely two different roles with two different focus, skills and visions.

  • Stuart Weltman June 25, 2008 12:34 pm

    As a former CIO of both large and small companies, it is my opinion that the responsibilities of the CIO's direct reports would dictate the time allocation between strategic and tactical activities - but the idea of "splitting" the role would simply create different problems. Every CIO needs a good VP/Director of Technology Operations who can act in a pseudo-COO role and allow the CIO to focus on strategic priorities, while still drawing their boss in on major day-to-day decisions. Splitting the CIO role would cause both people to spend at least 50% of their time simply coordinating their activities with a bunch of administrivia. Not a smart use of resources in most companies.

  • Manuel Benitez Coda June 25, 2008 9:27 am

    This situation probably is common in large firms, but in SMEs it is necessary to keep both views, strategic and tactic.

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