Australian CIOs need to focus more on outcomes and how to deliver them rather than organisational issues such as IT reporting lines and executive job titles, Fortescue Metals Group CIO Vito Forte told the CIO Strategy Summit in Melbourne this week.
Forte, a finalist in the iTnews Benchmark Awards, told an audience of his peers that debate over the future of the CIO role and reporting lines did not change the underlying characteristics of what makes an effective IT leader.
"Whether you call it a CIO, ... chief digital architect ... [or] chief bottle washer, it doesn't really make too much difference," Forte said.
"I'm pretty clear with my role. My role is to make their job easier because if they look good I look good, simple as that."
Forte also dismissed recent speculation around shifting IT reporting lines, which potentially left IT a step removed from a seat with the CEO, the most common reporting line in the region, according to a recent Gartner survey.
"We've got to stop getting hung up on those organisational and hierarchical issues," Forte said.
"Sometimes actually not being at the CEO table's a good thing. There's a lot of stuff that happens up there that you probably don't need to be there [for], and sometimes it isn't, [but] I think that's a business issue and it depends on the kind of business as well."
Forte found support from fellow panellist and Industrial CIO of the Year, Calibre Global's Jason Cowie.
"I've flipped between the board room and not, and I think we get hung up on that because every survey that you get sent as a CIO ... question one is who do your report to, question two is what's your annual budget?" he said.
Much in the same vein as Forte, Cowie saw the role of the CIO as a "partner and an enabler" for the business.
"As CIOs grow and you can get more entrenched in the business ... you're going to become the more trusted adviser, and I think that's where we all need to head," Cowie said.
"I think that's where the CIO role needs to be — rather than technology, more in the business field".
Pacific Aluminium project manager Matthew Campbell said he still aspired to be a CIO and that the acronym effectively spelled out the ongoing value of the CIO role in the organisational hierarchy.
"The title itself, chief information officer, really calls out what that individual is doing — they're taking the data that we generate in our systems that we transact through interfaces and the like, and we actually turn it into something of value for the broader business, and it's how they utilise that information that generates value for the organisations," he said.
"I see it as a stewardship role and I think that an organisation that doesn't have someone with their finger on the pulse around how that data is transformed does lack something [and] is missing an opportunity."
Forte said that "control" over technology use in organisations is no longer part of the vocabulary of the CIO.
"What's important for us to facilitate, manage, cajole, direct, understand and to assist," he said.
"Control implies rigidity. It generally implies a level of fixed in your thinking as well. With the advent of consumerisation in IT ... I think the issue of control is no longer there".
Cowie agreed that consumerisation meant control was no longer relevant. He said organisations had to accept that if IT ran a block to certain capabilities, business units would just skirt IT and procure the capability themselves.
"You have to accept that's going to happen, bring them in and say, 'Let me work with you', and effectively you get governance through the world of partnering," he said.
Campbell agreed with the partnership role of internal IT with the business, believing the benefits of such an approach cut both ways.
"You shouldn't [as internal IT] really provide all the solutions for the business because I don't think that's a genuine partnership," he said.
"I think definitely that it's a two way street. In some way your own experiences can deliver value for the business and in other ways business can bring innovation to the technology department.
"I would ... exert a level of control over the architecture so that you achieve a level of economies of scale there, but don't go so far as you create a rigid environment for the business in that it feels constrained and starts resenting the technology it's using."