Last week’s column talked about the tired cliché (is there any other kind?) that CIOs have to be business people, not technology people. It pointed out that no, they have to be both, and suggested several alternative C*O titles that might fit the bill for modern IT leaders.

It brought to mind a piece I wrote 23 years ago (3/10/1997 to be precise) that (I hope) shoves a wooden stake through this nonsensical notion by showing just how worthless someone running IT would be if they bought into the “… not technology people” half of the false dichotomy.

Since I don’t see any way to improve upon this ancient diatribe, I’ve decided to re-run it. Hope you like it too.

– Bob

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Do you love technology? Is it really cool stuff, or just a tool for the business, like a screwdriver or bandsaw?

Northwest Airlines undoubtedly logged the flight as an on-time departure, because we left the gate within 15 minutes of the original schedule. Of course, we sat on the tarmac for an hour and a half, but nobody tracks on-time take-offs or arrivals. That’s the problem with choosing poor performance measures: you get what you measure, not what you want.

Because I had the extra time, I read Fortune and Forbes, instead of the history and science fiction I prefer (really the same subject, pointed in opposite temporal directions). Much to my surprise I struck gold, in the form of a Forbes story about Chrysler, currently the hottest performer in the automotive industry.

And that’s why I asked if you love technology. The Bobs who run Chrysler (Eaton and Lutz) love cars, and expect their whole team to love ’em too. “If you don’t have an almost irrational passion for cars and trucks,” says Eaton, Chrysler’s CEO and president, “we don’t believe you’ll jump ahead of the pack.”

Lutz, the vice chairman, adds this: “Let’s face it, the customer [is] just a rearview mirror … When it comes to the future, why, I ask, should we expect the customer to be the expert in clairvoyance or creativity? After all, isn’t that really what he expects us to be?”

I keep hearing we’re supposed to be businesspersons first, which I guess means we’re supposed to all scurry around with yellow legal pads, computing returns on investment and accounting for budget variances while making sure those nasty techies who work for us don’t fritter their time away playing with some new toy on the company’s nickel.

Go away. Maybe my wait on the tarmac has just put me in a mood, but go away. Please. Today, I don’t have any patience for this nonsense.

If you can’t conjure up any passion for what you do … if you don’t think personal computers, and networks, and the Internet, and giant data warehouses, and using computers to control your telephone, and … if you don’t think this is all just awesome … why on earth are you doing this?

Sure, you need to understand how this all fits your business. If it doesn’t fit it will fail, and then you won’t get to play anymore. And besides, technology lacks sex appeal until you see other people using it. You have to be a businessperson or you won’t understand just how cool it can all be.

Early last year I wrote about an unsavory sales tactic: the losing sales team meets with the decision-maker and his or her manager. The sales team tries, in the meeting, to discredit the decision, and especially to provoke some display of emotion. Then they get to say, “Clearly, Clyde has become too emotionally involved in this to be making a good business decision.”

Here’s the proper response (from Clyde’s manager): “I damn well hope he’s emotionally involved in it. I don’t want anyone on my team who doesn’t take it personally when some salesman challenges his professionalism, and I sure don’t want anyone on a project who’s apathetic about the result. Now get out.”

The Internet snuck up on a lot of CIOs. I’ll bet every one of them was a businessperson, not a technology hobbyist. Those who love technology breathed a sigh of relief – they’d been waiting for the right moment to bring the Internet to their company’s attention. Finally, they could stop waiting.

How about your company’s business? You should have just as much passion for it as you do for technology, and for the same reasons. So here’s the best of all possible worlds: you find your employer’s business just as awesome as you find technology. Now there’s a job you’re perfect for.

Make it stop!

Several decades ago, some wise pundit wrote that CIOs should be business people, not technology people. The resulting article has been republished, with slight changes in paragraph order and phrasing details, over and over again ever since.

None of these repetitions has fixed the fundamental flaw in the original. As I pointed out a year and a half ago on, replace the “I” with any other capitalized executive middle letter and see where the logic takes you: CFOs should, according to this logic, be business people, not financial people; COOs should be business people, not operations people; CMOs should be business people whose knowledge of marketing is optional.

And yet, as if the endless repetitions never happened, here comes McKinsey to make it official: For years, we’re now told, executives have stressed the need for CIOs to move beyond simply managing IT to leveraging technology to create value for the business. This priority is now a requirement. (“The CIO challenge: Modern business needs a new kind of tech leader,” Anusha Dhasarathy, Isha Gill, and Naufal Khan, McKinsey Digital, January, 2020).

I suppose I should be gratified. This iteration endorses positions we (“we” being my co-author, Dave Kaiser, and I) took in There’s No Such Thing as an IT Project, (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, September, 2019), not that McKinsey’s authors acknowledged our precedence.

Oh, well.

In addition to the unneeded repetition, The CIO Challenge also makes the Monolithicity Mistake, namely, providing just a single “new” job description all CIOs must abide by. Just as no one strategy fits all businesses, neither will just a single approach to IT leadership.

That being the case, here are a few of the alternatives available to you as an IT leader. Choose one, or create your own hybrid:

Chief IT Officer: While KJR doesn’t generally endorse the old IT-as-a-business-with-internal-customers IT organizational model (see, for example, “Customers vs Consumers,” InfoWorld, October 25, 1999), sometimes it’s the best you can do.

This model does have an advantage: If you’re running IT as a business you can hardly be accused of not being a businessperson. So long as, that is, you really do run IT as a business, complete with its own, independently derived strategy, operating model, and other accoutrements of a standalone corporation.

Chief Integration Officer: Buy when you can. Build when you have to.

As the IT applications marketplace has matured, more and more of the functionality a business manager needs to operate effectively already exists and is ready to license.

That’s in contrast to developing an application in-house, where you haven’t even articulated the user stories that define what it’s supposed to do.

But … license applications from multiple vendors and you’ll find their data models don’t easily mesh.

That’s what makes integration an intrinsically hard problem to solve.

Beyond this, from the perspective of each application’s business owner, integration is someone else’s problem.

Therein lies an opportunity. Embrace so-called “shadow IT.” Let business owners choose their own applications. Limit IT’s role to their integration so that, metaphorically, even though the business owns several watches it still knows the time.

Chief Transformation Officer: All so-called IT projects are really business change projects or what’s the point?

Add to this another level of difficulty when it comes to making business change happen: Most business managers know how to keep things the same — to make sure their areas of responsibility run the same way tomorrow as they did yesterday, with incremental improvements, perhaps, but not dramatically different.

Making transformational change happen just isn’t what they know how to do.

It can be what IT knows how to do, out of self-defense if nothing else. After all, when so-called IT projects don’t deliver business benefit, it’s IT that’s left holding the bag.

Chief IT Infrastructure Officer: IT runs the data center and all of the IT infrastructure needed for business-unit-based application teams to do their work.

This was a thankless model even before cloud computing became popular. Now? If the CEO asks you to assume the role of CITIO, just say yes … to make you’re gainfully employed while launching the job search you start tomorrow.

Chief Strategy Officer: Welcome to the world of Digital-as-a-noun, where businesses shift their emphasis from cost-reduction to revenue enhancement and information technology is assumed, not cost-justified on a case-by-case basis.

Take it a step further: information technology isn’t merely assumed. Each new, emerging technology translates to a potential new business capability. New capabilities potentially translate to new and better products and customer experiences.

In the Digital world, then, IT drives business strategy — it doesn’t merely support it.

One drawback: driving business strategy isn’t something you’d do instead of your current job.

It’s in addition.