It’s my guess that Mike Cooke’s provocative article in the February 15, 2012 issue of Financial Times (“Does the company CIO have a future?”) has a lot of people thinking about their career choices.
And while there’s probably not a lot of worrying among CIOs secure in their jobs, people aiming to move up the IT ladder will read what Cooke has to say with great interest.
Cooke, a partner in Booz & Company’s Strategy and IT practices, begins his good story by noting that “the rapid change in both technology and the information technology (IT) function over the last 50 years” has enabled the “continued metamorphosis” of the CIO role. He is not, it seems, so sure that happy state will continue, and he suggests several reasons why.
During the last 12 years, Cooke points out, we’ve seen the dot-com bubble burst, the “great” recession, outsourcing on the global scale, and the development of technologies that don’t require an IT department. With this last, Cooke gives attention to several specifics (“cloud services, software as a service, and even the proliferation of smart phones and mobile devices”), all impressive in their ability to strengthen the knowledge development and knowledge sharing process – KD/KS. The picture Cooke paints is pretty clear, and the reader comes away with the idea that, generally speaking, enterprise-wide information and knowledge sharing is getting better all the time. But if corporate success depends on how well the KD/KS process is managed (as it does), there are challenges. More and more attention will be required for those many and various “elements” of the information- and knowledge-sharing process, and the question then becomes: is this the work of the CIO?
Probably not, except in several key ways which Cooke is fair to identify and make some projections about. Linked to those roles for the CIO-like employee, though, is a goodly set of trends about what’s going on. No need to list them here (Cooke does a good job) but they are the technology and information/knowledge integration trends we talk about a lot. We see them all the time, and we talk about how – as we notice them – the “IT-as-pipeline-and-KM-as-what-flows-through” dichotomy of the past is making less and less sense in more and more organizations. And what these trends tell us is that – within the corporate knowledge culture – we’re creating a KD/KS environment in which synthesis, analysis, and even interpretation all play a critical role in how knowledge is developed and then shared as sharing is required. No longer are information, knowledge, and strategic learning the purview of one or another “slice” or “silo” of the enterprise. It is connected to everything that everybody does, and it all comes together to make the company successful.
Cooke sees two roles for the former-CIO of the future, and he sees them as two different jobs, one “focused on strategic information needs of the company” and the other managing the company’s information technology. The role of the former, whom Cooke characterizes as the Chief Strategic Information Officer (CSIO) comes very close to what others of us are referring to as the knowledge strategist (with the company’s thought leader in the C-suite as the company’s Chief Knowledge Strategist). And the similarity between the CSIO and the CKS becomes even clearer when we look at how Cooke describes the CSIO’s work:
…the wealth of information companies will deal with (and it could be argued, deal with today) is considerable. In fact, it offers so much potential value that it warrants a complete focus on understanding and extracting that potential. The role of a CSIO could not be executed to its maximum if that person was distracted by regularly occurring delivery issues and problems that today’s CIO typically deals with. In short, the sheer value of strategic information demands complete focus.
It’s that “complete focus” that defines the knowledge strategist we seek for the workplace. Thanks to the valuable thinking of people like Mike Cooke, we’re a lot closer to closing the IT/KM divide than ever before. Whether we call the people we put in charge of information management, KM, and strategic learning our “Chief Strategic Information Officer” or our “Chief Knowledge Strategist” is probably irrelevant. It’s their work that is the knowledge work of the future.