Telling Statements on the CIO Role


I may have underestimated one book from our quarterly suggested reading list this time around.

Or maybe it's just that I didn't have the full story from the authors.

In their new book, Analytics at Work, Tom Davenport and Jeanne Harris make a compelling case for how CIOs and businesses should use information-gathering technologies. Where their landmark book, Competing on Analytics, focused on theory, their follow-up delivers a clear guidebook for getting it done.

But they told me much more in a recent interview. Specifically, they delved into what makes a CIO tick.

Two passages jumped out at me. First, Harris spoke about how business intelligence and analytics go to the heart of the CIO's prescribed duties:

If you look back at surveys from when the "CIO" term first came about, companies didn't just want someone who could slam in systems and build them infrastructure--they wanted someone who could help them get better information to make better managing decisions. Tom and I did a study about ERP systems going back to 2001, asking them, "What benefits did you most want from implementing ERP?" The answer was, "Better information for management decision making." Unfortunately, the benefit most slowly to be realized was better information for management decision making.

So there's been a desire for a very long time for IT to play a more proactive role not only in improving business transactions and processes more efficiently, but to help managers apply the information they need to make better decisions and put them into practice.

And when asked why CIOs have had such a difficult time with business intelligence and analytics, Davenport said:

I always say that CIOs have been pretty preoccupied with the plumbing as opposed to the water. But you have to admit it's been a few decades where the plumbing was changing at a very rapid rate--new valves and faucets coming out every year. It was a natural tendency to focus on getting the plumbing in place.

Both Harris and Davenport have been studying CIOs for years, and their insights are right on. Sure, you've heard statements like this before, but it's one of those things: If they keep coming up, there must be something to them.

What do you think? Can mastering BI help get CIOs where they need to be--to finally fulfill the promise of their role?


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