“The CIO as Chief Process Officer”–Huh?


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That’s right. An e-mail message from “CIO Magazine” snuck past my spam filter and plopped right into my in-box. “The CIO as Chief Process Officer” was the lead story. Happened just after breakfast, too, and sent me into peptic distress.

Call it what you want – refusal to learn, deep denial of truth, failure to learn from experience – when are they going to “get it” that technology does not drive process – and neither do technologists?
Think about the process/technology relationship from a customer-alignment model. We start by aligning strategies with customers. Then we align business process with strategies. And last, we align technology with process. That’s the only way customer-alignment works. And that’s the only way business process outside of manufacturing contributes up to its potential.

CRM implementers spent years learning this lesson the hard way, as behind-the-curve companies experienced train wreck after train wreck trying to implement CRM “technology-first.” And not to limit this issue to CRM, similarly uneducated companies and software vendors brought about similar carnage trying to implement ERP software with technology driving process.

Ironically, not too long ago SAP offered a wonderful white paper advising companies never to lead process with technology on this very site. SAP gets it. But apparently “CIO Magazine” – and many others – don’t.

Okay, suppose I misinterpreted the title. After all, I didn’t have the stomach to read it. Maybe the premise was that CIOs can think in process terms better than other people. After all, systems and process are both technical, aren’t they?

This interpretation doesn’t fly, either. Even manufacturing process can be more conceptual than technical. Think about Lean. At its core, Lean is visual. It’s about mapping. But when you leave manufacturing and go to variable environments where the majority of employees in developed economies work, That’s where you really see why most CIOs shouldn’t have their hands anywhere near the process steering wheel. And that’s not a criticism of CIOs. Think about how many Chief Customer Officers would function well in a technical environment.

Process design in variable environments requires very heavy right brain activity. It’s much more creative and conceptual than left-brain technical. It’s about understanding people, understanding how business functions interact with each other; and having the imagination to see how things could be different – and better.

Nonetheless, over and over again we see companies assigning process design to IT management, which delegates it to business analysts, usually the low folks on the totem pole. This misassignment keeps recurring because corporate management persists in seeing process as a technical issue, when out of the manufacturing environment it’s anything but.

That’s unfortunate, because the financial losses caused by companies working ineffectively and inefficiently off the shop floor are staggering. And the opportunities to improve company performance by redesigning variable process are equally staggering.


  1. Dick

    I agree with your suggestion that IT should most definately NOT own processes, but not for the same reason.

    The winning argument for me is that the business should own its own processes, not IT. That means the business neeeds to be the entity that defines the processes, that documents them and ultimately, that decides how they will be enabled through technology, systems and databases.

    But that doesn’t mean that IT shouldn’t be inextricably linked in defining business processes. Reality is, processes are just one part of any business capability along with complementary systems, dataflows, work routines, organisation structure and other assets & resources. It is the capabilities as a whole that deliver value to customers, not the processes by themselves. That means IT should be involved in the future process envisioning activities as they are the only ones who really know what IT can and can’t do; the business is notoriously ignorant about what IT can really do. And there is nothing to stop IT from being a Centre of Excellence for business process reengineering knowledge & skills. That is a role I have often seen in the industrial-scale reengineering projects (in telcos, banks, automotibile manufacturers and government) that I have been involved in over the past 15 years.

    II isn’t the rightful owner for proces work, but you sure want them by your side when approaching process reengineering project of any size.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  2. Dick Lee – Graham, I totally agree with you. But within the context of the post I was trying to maintain a laser focus on why IT ownership is a bad idea. As the old adage goes, it doesn’t hurt to sit on a bed of nails, but sitting on one is a whole different story.

  3. Perhaps a slightly different view – since most of the business processes cannot now run without reliance on IT, the success of IT should be judged based on the overall performance metrics of the processes, rather than on technology metrics. CIO as a chif process officer then means that ultimately, while the line of business should own the process design for business quality/completeness, the CIO could be held responsible for the quality of performance of the process as designed. The IT participation in the design would be to align enabling technology and the business activities resulting in best performance potential……Jon

  4. Jon – thanks for a good comment. I agree that IT should share some responsibility for process success – as long as it doesn’t get tagged for human error. While you can’t take the technology out of most processes, you can’t remove the human element, either. That’s what makes process so much fun to work on.

    Dick Lee

  5. With the emergence of SaaS, the tech-savvy business person can actually co-own the ‘process’ and the ‘technology’ by relying increasingly on services provided by an outside vendor. Of course this requires understanding what the technology can accomplish and selecting the right service to fit the business need….but I think it can be overseen by a single individual.

    Andy Groh

  6. Perhaps Dick you should read the article and give it a chance.
    But article set aside, the trouble with IT is that it has always defined itself by its tools. DP, MIS, IS, IT — that all been primarily about technical issues and they have always focused on technology. The trouble is, IT tools are supposed to be ways to engage the business. The typical CIO may not be qualified or even of the proper mindset to be CPO; however, successful CIO’s do not define themselves by their tools. They join top management and talk process and strategy. These skilled contributors are top strategists, chief process officers, and yes, CIO’s too. But the focus first is strategy, then process, then the tools of IT. The job of IT leaders is to engage with HR leaders to fuel business processes that deliver the value proposition.

    We shouldn’t upchuck at the thought of the CIO becoming CPO. We should say “It’s about time and we should welcome former CIO’s that have the vision to understand that it not about technology alone — it is about business processes first.

    Tom Coleman
    Chief Information and Process Officer
    Sloan Valve Company


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