A salute to the information chief

What's in a name? If that name is the ultimate title to which an IT professional might aspire, chief information officer, there are three words, two of which have no relation to the job description, leaving one which struggles for recognition.

What's in a name? If that name is the ultimate title to which an IT professional might aspire, chief information officer, there are three words, two of which have no relation to the job description, leaving one which struggles for recognition. Taking just the initials, CIO, it suggests the tired joke "career is over", which did the rounds in the late 80s and early 90s when the wearers of the title outsourced themselves into extinction.

But despite the awkwardness of the title, CIO is making a comeback. I'm not sure that it deserves to. Let's look at the three parts of the name individually. Chief is innocuous enough although it smacks a little of people in uniform performing heroic life and property saving deeds. And we've all heard the complaint "too many chiefs and not enough injuns". So chief really serves no useful purpose as part of this job description. We'll skip the second word for the moment and go straight to officer. I'm sworn to the eradication of this word, starting with wiping it from the pages of Computerworld and, once successful there, I'll take the campaign to the wider world. This will be modelled on other brave newspaper crusades like that undertaken by the UK's Independent on Sunday, which set out to rid Britain's public places of dog poop. I don't know why I've got it in for officer, but I have a well-documented anti-authority streak. Teachers were often inviting me to take a breather outside the classroom. In any case, whenever some flash new chief executive officer pops up, the last part of the title is instantly excised. Even CEO is more than I can bear. It's the military connotations — those uniforms, again, and all that saluting — which gets me. Believe it or not, though, it's not that which this column is about. It's the middle word of the title, the one struggling to climb out from beneath the oppressive weight of technology, which I want to dwell on. The struggle for recognition of the information in chief information officer was highlighted, appropriately enough, at last week's CIO conference (run by Computerworld publisher IDG) in Auckland. Ken Bullock, information strategy manager in the New South Wales Office of IT, brought the problem to light, pointing out there were few job titles that contain a word that doesn't relate to the function (by my count it's three, Ken). The technology keeps getting in the way, says Bullock, because CIOs are forced to spend too much time making it work. When information is an organisation's most valuable asset (okay, yes, people are important too, he agrees), its management should be given the emphasis it deserves, says Bullock. Persuading New South Wales state government agencies, which spend $A600 million a year on computers, to implement sound information policies is Bullock's job, and he reports mixed success in getting them to toe the line. In 1998, just under half had compliant information policies. Interestingly, and perhaps highlighting information's ascendance over technology, more than half the CIOs whom Bullock is bringing into line are women. Many of them have moved into the role from positions as librarians, learning the IT function along the way. As the CIO role becomes that of planner and strategist rather than project manager and service provider, perhaps women have a natural advantage over men. Bullock draws attention to another trend, which promises to make my campaign against the "o" word more protracted. A whole host of new titles is rising up — chief Web officer, chief technology officer, chief privacy officer, chief knowledge officer — which he says shouldn't be glorified by the word chief. I don't think he goes nearly far enough: they musn't be allowed to see the light of day. What do you think of Doesburg's officer obssession? Is it a pointless distraction from the real issues associated with the CIO role? Got any similar pet hates? Get it off your chest by email to anthony_doesburg@idg.co.nz

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