CIO becomes COI, starts supervising CFO

No matter what anyone says, titles matter. They send a message about the job and the person doing it.

          No matter what anyone says, titles matter. They send a message about the job and the person doing it.

          "If you've got a CIO title, people think you're a computer guy," says Charles Cook, vice president and general manager at A-dec in Newberg, Oregon. But the maker of dental office furniture and equipment wanted an executive to oversee more than just IT.

          "We want someone to identify and streamline all of our information needs. That's why the title is chief of information," says Cook.

          The new position, created in a companywide reorganisation in February, puts Keith Beardon, A-dec's former CIO, in the unique role of COI.

          "I've seen CIO titles, of course, but not COI," observes W Scott Sherman, a professor at the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University in Culver City, California. "It's clearly a title that means information means something special to the company."

          Cook underscores that point. "We want to keep the reality of information's importance to the business in the forefront," he says.

          To that end, as part of the reorganisation, Cook has A-dec's chief financial officer reporting to Beardon, a structure that Sherman says he's never seen before.

          But Cook, who is the sole executive reporting to the company's owners, has specific reasons for putting his CFO under the COI, who is now on par with Cook's other direct reports including the vice presidents of manufacturing, human resources, sales and product development.

          A-dec is privately held, and at a privately held company, the CFO doesn't have treasury duties such as filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that a public-company CFO would shoulder, says Cook. But he also points out that "financial information is just that: information. It's used to make decisions like manufacturing or sales-order information."

          CFO Alan Steiger says he's happy with the choice of Beardon as his boss. Steiger, who had been on a peer level with Beardon, says he's looking forward to redesigning some of the IT reporting systems for finance to help improve A-dec's budgeting process.

          Beardon says he and Steiger "have a great working relationship, and what he is looking to me for as a boss is really the strategic direction of how information fits into the company and more specifically where financial information fits."

          Cook considers the new position a tough one. "Keith's challenge will be to understand our information needs in totality and how to get information in and out of the right departments in an economic and complete way," he says. "He needs to look at information holistically in the way we run the business."

          Cook says that Beardon was right for the job because he has "proven auditing skills, which will come in handy" for looking at how different department data silos can relate to one another.

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