We matter, CIOs say

NAPLES, Fla. — In Nicholas Carr's view, chief information officers follow information technology trends and should strive to make IT ordinary and inexpensive. But industry representatives and CIOs themselves disagree, tagging the job as a strategic manager.

Rather than be a pioneer of innovation, a CIO should identify vulnerabilities such as overspending for technology, said Carr, author of "IT Doesn't Matter," an article that made waves in tech industry circles earlier this year.

"The real goal is to make IT ordinary, to make it invisible," he said, speaking on a panel today at the Government CIO Summit sponsored by FCW Media Group. "The CIO will be the driving force behind that. I think that's the right goal."

In essence, he said, CIOs have succeeded when the position is no longer necessary. That translates to cheaper technology investments and generic solutions, although it will take time, said Carr, whose article was published in the May issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology of America, disagreed with Carr's assessment. CIOs must use technology creatively, leveraging the information of the organization and the knowledge of its personnel, Miller said. He added that the value of a CIO can be seen when two organizations use the same technology but get very different results.

"Your job as the CIO becomes more important," said Miller, also on the panel. "You need to be even more a part of the basic enterprise strategic planning."

Carolyn Walton, Arkansas' executive CIO, said a CIO's mission is to be an innovator, a collaborator and a catalyst. She characterized her role during the first few months on the job as that of a deal maker, trying to find the best ways to spend a small amount of money for solutions. "We're not here to just manage costs," she said. "It's about solving problems for our citizens."

James Shanks, president of CDW Government Inc., said CIOs have worked very hard to get a seat at the management table, and the best are those who maintain that business role, plotting the organization's course.

"I think good leaders know how to lead," he said. "Technology is an enabler. It's really what sets us apart. That differentiation doesn't come from the component. It comes from the people, the talent of that organization."

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