The 2015 State of the CIO

Technology in business is constantly changing. To remain relevant, CIOs are stepping out of the shadows to become true business partners. Roger Parks explains how a CIO should balance the need to “keep the lights on” while pursuing greater innovation

Roger Parks, CIO of J.R. Simplot
Roger Parks, CIO of J.R. Simplot

Since becoming J.R. Simplot’s chief information officer, Roger Parks has made information technology a relevant part of the company’s strategic decisions. In doing so, the family-owned company has been lauded as an innovative agribusiness. Parks offers his perspective on the state of information technology within corporations and what must be done to put the CIO in the same ballpark as other

How would you assess the value of leadership positions in the field of information technology today? How have IT leadership and the CIO position changed over the last decade?

Roger Parks: The value of IT leadership and the role and value of IT are changing rapidly today. IT leaders across the organization all need to become more business focused and strategic to the enterprise, going beyond technology leadership. IT leaders must have an understanding of their company goals, customers, and suppliers, as well as the industry they are in.

Over the last decade we have seen the beginning of the role of the IT executive or CIO transforming from a technology leader to a true business services leader. With the pervasiveness of technology in every function of most every industry today, IT is no longer just about provisioning, managing, and supporting business transaction systems. IT is about developing business technology strategies for identifying the business value of current and emerging business technologies, adopting the right business technologies in the enterprise, and managing the deployment and support of those technologies and systems to provide real business value and competitive differentiation.

The IT executive or CIO has the expertise and business understanding of technologies and is now partnering with the business in developing the business strategies.

What are some of the bigger contributions a CIO and his or her team make to their company? Why do you think these contributions are sometimes overlooked?

The value of the CIO and his or her team has increased and expanded in a number of areas. The traditional IT department is about the only department in the enterprise that crosses all of the business functions and departments in the company. This knowledge of the entire business, coupled with the understanding of current and emerging business technologies, positions the IT department and the IT executive to provide greater value to the company than at any time in the past. The IT department can be one of the leaders in an enterprise that stimulates and creates innovation.

The contributions of IT are overlooked in many companies for several reasons. First, the CIO and IT executives have not taken a leadership role in redefining and demonstrating the new or expanded value of IT to the enterprise. Second, only the more innovative C-level executives recognize IT can be a differentiator and value contributor to the company, and those C-level executives will include IT in their strategies.

How has the CIO position gone astray in the past? Do you feel the CIO has lost his or her “voice” in the company?

The CIO and other IT executives have gone astray in the past because they haven’t stepped up to become business leaders; they have been too focused on technology and have been more comfortable speaking in technology terms rather than business terms. IT executives have been relegated to a lower value position in the executive suite than other business executives because the CIO or IT executive has done a poor job of providing business leadership, and in many cases, he or she has not been allowed to demonstrate their knowledge of the business or industry.

Changing the value and view of IT will require a different type of leadership by both the CIO and the other business executives. Business technology is now foundational to most enterprises, and the CIO must transform and demonstrate real business acumen and leadership.

What value would be brought to a company if someone in your position were made a true business partner?

With business technology now being pervasive across the entire company, the CIO is in the best position to align with the other business leaders in identifying the business value and possible competitive advantage that may be delivered with technologies. It is imperative that the IT executive or CIO speak in business terms, stop talking about IT solutions, and start talking about enterprise strategies, goals, and increasing shareholder value. 

Going forward, where do you see the value of IT and the CIO in the future? Why is it important for CIOs to be proactive in leading the charge in bringing IT to the forefront of a business?

I think the transformation of the value of IT and the future CIO has started. The CIO’s role is transforming and expanding beyond executive management and oversight of company technology and systems to becoming a multidimensional role in the organization. In addition to the current duties and responsibilities, the role of the CIO in the organization is transforming to also be a business executive; CIOs must conduct themselves, speak, and lead like business executives.

As a business integrator, the role of the CIO is no longer just about systems integration; it now includes integrating business processes, business capabilities, and new business opportunities across the enterprise. The new CIO is a relationship manager, an innovator, a visionary, a strategist, and a revenue generator.

Why do you think executives have trouble seeing IT as a valuable part of a company?

Most business executives outside of IT are encumbered with a legacy understanding and thinking about IT. This is a significant barrier to changing the view of IT from a cost center to a value contributor in the company.

A couple of things need to happen to change the view of the value of IT in the company: First, the CIO and IT organization must transform from information technology to business technology, demonstrating real business value of current and emerging technologies that enable the business. Second, C-level executives must recognize IT as a differentiator and that information is a critical business asset that can create competitive advantage, drive innovation, and improve profitability. 

What can IT employees do to change the perception of how IT is valued?

The most immediate thing IT employees can do is to communicate and speak in business terms, and stop talking in IT vernacular. Speak about delivering business value and business benefits with technology and business solutions.

You mentioned changing names like IT to business technology services and CIO to chief digital officer. How do you foresee these changes helping how the position is viewed?

IT is becoming business technology because it’s no longer just about information technology and computer-based transaction and information processing, but business-enabling technologies across the enterprise. In addition to changing the name of IT to business technology, IT will also change to a business-services model, realigning some traditional IT functions and creating new roles in IT—like support services, solution delivery services, infrastructure management services, risk management, security services, and more. The CIO will change to the chief digital officer because the role of the IT executive will expand beyond managing information systems to managing the new world of digital business.