ROLE OF THE CIO
INTERVIEW ON THE FUTURE ROLE
OF THE CIO WITH MARK SCHWARTZ
North Highland’s Ben
Grinnell connected with
Mark Schwartz, CIO and
leading author, for on-the-
ground insights into the
changing role of the CIO.
Mark Schwartz is an iconoclastic CIO and a playful crafter of ideas, an inveterate purveyor of lucubratory prose. He has been an IT leader in
organizations small and large, public, private, and nonprofit. He is pretty sure that when he was the CIO of Intrax Cultural Exchange, he was the
first person ever to use business intelligence and supply chain analytics to place au pairs with the right host families. Mark speaks frequently on
innovation, bureaucratic implications of DevOps, and Agile processes in low-trust environments. With a computer science degree from Yale and an
MBA from Wharton, Mark is either an expert on the business value of IT or just confused and much poorer.
BEN GRINNELL: Do you see the future role of the CIO as one of bringing together communities of practice across the organization or as
leading a larger function, as many CIOs do today? If the former, what change of skills do you think the role will require?
MARK SCHWARTZ: I see the role as one of driving business value for the organization through the use of technology – perhaps more akin
to what you call “bringing together communities of practice.” We have to escape from the idea of IT as a “function,” presided over by a
CIO. Pens and pencils are not a function, nor are telephones; they are tools. IT is also a tool. It’s curious to me that IT is often so opposed
to “shadow IT.” I understand why, and certainly it has led to many problems in the past, but in principle it makes no difference who gives
the organization its technological capabilities. If the CIO truly had a seat at the table, he or she would care little about who is meeting the
organization’s IT needs and more about whether those needs are being met.
There is an interesting flipside to this: I think the CIO needs a more technical background than we have traditionally thought. If the CIO
is at the table to add value by being an IT expert, then he or she should truly be an expert. Everyone else in the organization is becoming
more and more sophisticated in their technology use, so why would you have a CIO who isn’t vastly more sophisticated in technology than
everyone else? When we thought of technology departments as a function, as a provider of technical support services and executor of
projects, then it made sense for the CIO to be a generic manager. But if the CIO’s role is to be the expert on deriving business value from
technology, then the CIO must be extremely technology savvy.
BG: In many organizations, IT is still a cost center and IT directors/CIOs do not have primary seats at the board table. Does this need to
change? If so, what does the organization need to do? What can CIOs do?
MS: This is an easy one. We can all see that technology is delivering revenue, competitive advantage and mission accomplishment. Any
organization that views it just as a cost is clearly missing something. I think many organizations fall into this trap just because cost is
easy to measure, while the rest of these benefits are not. Perhaps CEOs who treat IT as a cost center just lack the courage or confidence
to accept that the link between the technology and the benefits is harder to quantify and justify. But IT is an area where one invests and
reaps benefit—though interestingly, with the cloud, today, more of our IT costs are expensed rather than capitalized.
It seems like many organizations are accepting that technology really can drive revenue and competitive advantage, but they are putting
those initiatives into a separate area they call “digital services,” with a separate budget and a separate leader. That still amounts to
an acceptance that IT is more than a cost center. The question then becomes whether it is more efficient and effective to run them
separately. As a general rule, it seems more efficient to operate digital services within the CIO’s realm, but many organizations