The shadow CIO

Most sizable enterprises are experiencing the phenomenon of shadow IT, whereby non-IT departments are taking advantage of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings to bring in new applications more cheaply and more cost effectively than traditional IT has been willing to accommodate them.

Increasingly, this impulse is reaching the CEO and board level, as well, with organizations looking for a ‘shadow CIO’ to provide strategic leadership on how the company can and should transform itself in light of the cloud, mobile, big data and social technologies that are likely transforming their industry.

The trendy title for this shadow CIO is ‘Chief Digital Officer’ (CDO), and recently offered an update on the proliferation of the position.

Searching for a leader

In designating the head IT as the organization’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), enterprises were looking to locate a poobah in charge of everything involved in applying IT to their business.

Most enterprises, however, get the CIOs they deserve. If they don’t hire, promote, evaluate and incentivize their CIOs to be strategic business executives at the table for discussions on business vision and strategy, then the head of their IT portfolio will not be that kind of strategic business executive.

Many enterprises haven’t; and many CIOs aren’t.

Because the current generation of disruptive technologies is truly transformative, organizations are looking for a genuine leader to communicate a comprehensive vision for their company’s sustaining role in a transformed industry and how the company can get there.

Not surprisingly, instead of turning to a CIO whose frequent contribution to technology-related discussions has been, “No. Not that fast. Not that cheaply. Not now,” a number of organizations are looking for someone else to fill the void.  

Just as shadow IT first took firmest hold in marketing with new applications for social monitoring and analysis (listening platforms), the shadow CIO—AKA CDO— often has digital marketing expertise and is given a social media and digital marketing portfolio as part of his or her charge.

Whither the traditional CIO

As with shadow IT, the shadow CIO serves a real purpose and can deliver a real business advantage. But like shadow IT, the shadow CIO can

  • shine a light on the limitations of current IT management;
  • confound and complicate presumably duplicative responsibilities and functions in the IT department, and
  • lead to the diminishment of the IT department role and responsibilities.

CDOs and CIOs can potentially have a direct reporting relationship, whether up or down, or be organizational peers. But make no mistake about it: Unless the CIO is the CDO or has the CDO reporting to him or her, the addition of a CDO is a subtraction from the official CIO function.

Many Chief Whatever Officers (CWOs)

Europeans have long chuckled at the American penchant to name dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of ‘vice presidents’ within the rank and file of a company’s mid-, lower-, and non-management staffs.

CWOs of course are now all the rage, and all that’s required now is for a proliferation of whatever portfolios for the Chiefs to manage, followed by the pushing down and multiplication of CWO title holders. E.g., an increasing number of large firms now have multiple, division-level, CIOs.

Chief Innovation Officers (more CIOs!) or Chief Knowledge Officers (CKOs) have sometimes been named aside or under the traditional CIO function. Traditional CIOs may also have a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Chief Data Officer (CDO), Chief Infrastructure Officer (still more CIOs!) and more on staff.

What really matters with the shadow CIO/CDO is whether the right strategic vision and plan for leveraging transformative technology is being communicated and effectuated to the CEO and board levels of the company.

If the traditional CIO doesn’t have the capability and support to fulfill that role, someone else needs to. If the organization already has too many chiefs, Chairman of Technology (CoT) or ‘shadow chairman’ has something of a nice ring to it.