Here at E2open, we’ve been having quite a few interesting conversations lately centering on the role of CIOs.

You can’t be in software marketing or sales without pondering what the CIO thinks of your strategy.  What strikes me is how quickly these conversations dive straight into IT.  “The IT department has these priorities…”, “The IT department wants to do this, but it’s not in IT’s budget…”.

It seems like IT is consumed with maintenance of systems, upgrades, firefighting, network administration, what to do about cloud, etc.  And this seems rather odd to me.  The conversation starts with the CIO, but ends up being all about IT.  Is that really what the CIO does – manage IT?

What should the CIO really be doing?

I asked my friend John, who sells pizza at festivals around the country (really), what a CIO does.  I targeted him because he has no preconceived notion.  He knew this was a trap, but he played along anyway.  He answered me with a question, “What does C-I-O stands for, anyway?”  I said, “Chief Information Officer.”  John smiled and said, “Then I guess a CIO is in charge of getting the right information to the right people in the company when they need it.”

I thought, yeah, that’s what it should be.  Get the right information to the right people when they need it. But how many CIOs think that way? How many want to think that way, strive to think that way, but simply don’t have the time or runway to think strategically?

CIOs today are being forced to work from the inside out. Network, systems (ERP, desktop productivity, CRM, SCM, social networking, etc. ), security…  What if they could work from the outside in? How about they start with the people in the company (and their trading partners, if you really want to go wild!). Find out what information they need to do their job.  Find out what information they need to share with their stakeholders to get things done.  Find out what information they all need to make decisions together to achieve their individual and common goals.

That sounds to me like what the CIO should be doing. Maybe if a CIO’s number one priority was to figure that out, then perhaps somebody else (hey, what about his IT team?) could figure out the systems to make that happen.

That would be really cool – let’s try it.  I know, I know, “but we have this existing hairball, you see…” Seriously – somebody should try it.  I predict that that somebody would dominate their market.

What do you think?