Once more I have decided to pen this article based on a question that was raised on LinkedIn.com. The group in question on this occasion was Business Intelligence and the thread was entitled Is it time that the CBIO (Chief Business Intelligence Officer) position and organization become commonplace in today’s corporate structure? This was posted by John Thielman.
Standard note: You need to be a member of both LinkedIn.com and the group mentioned to view the discussions.
The case for a CBIO
I won’t republish all of John’s initial post, but for those who cannot access the thread these are the essential points that he raised:
- There is an ever-increasing need for more and better information in organisations
- Increasingly Business Intelligence is seen as a major source of competitive advantage
- A CBIO would bring focus and (more importantly) accountability to this area
- The CBIO should report directly to the CEO, with strong relations with the rest of the executive team
- The CBIO’s team would be a hybrid business / technical one (as I strongly believe the best BI teams should be)
- This team should also be at the forefront of driving change, based on the metrics that it generates
Now obviously creating a senior role with a portfolio spanning BI and change is going to be music that falls sweetly on my ears. I did however attempt to be objective in my response, which I reproduce in full below:
As someone who is (primarily) a BI professional, then of course my response could be viewed as entirely self-serving. Nevertheless, I’ll offer my thoughts.
In the BI programmes that I have run, I have had reporting lines into people such as the CIO, CFO or sometimes a combined IT / Operations lead. However (and I think that this is a big however), I have always had programme accountability to the CEO and have always had the entire senior leadership team (business and service departments) as my stakeholders. Generally my direction has come more from these dotted lines than from the solid ones – as you would hope would be the case in any customer-centric IT area.
I have run lots of different IT projects over the years. Things such as: building accounting, purchasing and sales systems; configuring and implementing ERP systems; building front-end systems for underwriters, marketing and executive teams; and so on. Given this background, there is definitely something about BI that makes it different.
Any IT system must be aligned to its users’ needs, that much is obvious. However with BI it goes a long way beyond alignment. In a very real sense, BI systems need to be the business. They are not there to facilitate business transactions, they are there to monitor the heartbeat of the organisation, to help it navigate the best way forward, to get early warning of problems, to check the efficacy of strategies and provide key input to developing them.
In short a good BI system should be focussed on precisely the things that the senior leadership team is focussed on, and in particular what the CEO is focussed on. In order to achieve this you need to understand what makes the business tick and you need to move very close to it. This proximity, coupled with the fact that good BI should drip business value means that I have often felt closer to the overall business leadership team than the IT team.
Please don’t misunderstand my point here. I have been an IT person for 20 years and I am not saying that BI should not be fully integrated with the overall IT strategy – indeed in my book it should be central to it as a major function of all IT systems is to gather information (as well as to support transactions and facilitate interactions with customers). However, there is something of a sense in which BI straddles the IT and business arenas (arenas that I have long argued should be much less distinct from each other than they are in many organisations).
The potentially massive impact of BI, the fact that it speaks the language of business leaders, the need for it to be aligned with driving cultural change and that the fact that the skills required for success in BI are slightly different for those necessary in normal IT projects all argue that something like a CBIO position is maybe not such a bad idea.
Indeed I have begun to see quite a few BI roles that are part of change directorates, or the office of the CEO or CFO. There are also some stand-alone BI roles out there, reporting directing to the board. Clearly there will always be a strong interaction with IT, but perhaps you have detected an emerging trend.
I suppose a shorter version of the above would run something like: my de facto reporting line in BI programmes has always been into the CEO and senior management team, so why not recognise this by making it a de jura reporting line.
BI is a weird combination of being both a specialist and generalist area. Generalist in needing to play a major role in running all aspects of the business, specialist in the techniques and technologies that are key to achieving this.
Over to the jury
Maybe the idea of a CBIO is one whose time has come. I would be interested in people’s views on this.