The evolving role of the CIO

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The Chief Information Officer, commonly known as the CIO is the job role of the most senior executive in an organization responsible for the information technology and computer systems that support organizational goals. Generally, the CIO reports to the CEO, COO or the CFO. Generally. But how has this job role evolved in Sri Lanka? What are the challenges faced and how can we move forward?

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Welcome to the inaugural meeting of the CIO Chapter of CSSL – Evolving role of the CIO, moderated by Rohan Muttiah, CIO of Bank of Ceylon PLC. “What is Strategy?” asks Rohan, as a room full of CIOs listen quietly after a welcome speech by Mahesh Perera, President of CSSL. “Do we use this term too often that it has lost its credibility?” Certainly yes.

The goal of any organization is profit. “And if you’re a not-for-profit organization” Rohan answering a question from the audience says “your profit is not necessarily monetary”. To achieve this goal, every organization has or should have a strategy. “Why then aren’t we aligned to this strategy?” stresses Rohan referring to all CIOs.

“We need to look at the bigger picture. CIOs have a larger responsibility than just repairing computers. We need to become like CFOs who report directly to CEOs, for that we need to talk the language that CEOs speak.” explains Rohan, giving an example of how to find ways to reduce cost and show more efficiency to CEOs. “We should also be open to ideas and receptive to changes” he warns, “If we continue to safeguard our domain, someone else will come by and win the heart of the CEO by having superior knowledge.” These are the steps forward to being recognized as a prominent role in achieving the organizational strategies.

“The fundamental problem, is jargon,” says Rohith from the audience. “CIOs talk a lot in technical terms and most of the CEOs have no clue what CIOs are talking about. Living in a culture where bosses are supposed to know EVERYTHING, CEOs tend not to ask questions and as a result no decisions are taken forward. This is why CIOs are eventually sidelined and CFOs for instance gain prominence” explains Rohith.

This reminds me of a typical patient-physician scenario. I’m sure I haven’t done any medical degree or anything similar. But the physician identifies that very well and explains what needs to be done in laymen terms. Are we both working for the same goal? Indeed yes. Who’s in-charge of what needs to be done? Indeed the patient. This explains that I’m the CEO and my physician is the CIO. Seeking help can be routine for CEOs, but convincing the CEO to take a decision is in the CIO. This is what is expected in CIO 2.0 – taking charge as a large wheel behind the clock than just a hand that rotates in front.

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