Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What is the difference between a CIO and an IT Director?

At a recent consulting meeting a CEO asked me “why doesn’t my IT department work well with the rest of the organization?” Before I could answer, he asked another more telling question: “what’s the difference between an IT director and a Chief Information Officer?” The answer to the first question was embedded in the need to ask the second question. If you don’t know the difference, you don’t understand the value of a CIO.

So what is the difference? A Director of IT focuses primarily on technology. A Chief Information Officer focuses on people, processes, projects, and technology as a holistic system designed to achieve the mutual interests of the entire organization.

The Director may engage people, processes, and projects to move technology forward, but only to the extent that these elements support technology initiatives. For the Director, it is all about the technology first, and everything else is secondary. This perspective leads the IT director to confuse the tool (technology) with the product of the tool. When the IT department values the tool more than the purpose of the tool, its values become misaligned with the values of the overall organization.

A CIO is part of the DNA of the entire organization, not just the techie side of it. A CIO is deeply engaged in the core mission of the organization where technology is viewed as a means to an end. The objective of the CIO is to achieve the goals of the organization. To a CIO, the technology is part of a bigger mechanism that works as an integrated machine to achieve the mission and vision of the whole organization. The only way to achieve such ambition is to integrate people, processes, projects, and technology from across the organization into a seamless system. Boundaries among delivery groups become irrelevant as the CIO works closely with every partner and stakeholder in the organization to achieve the broader mission.

My answer to the CEO’s first question: your IT department does not work well with the rest of your organization because you have an IT director, not a CIO.