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Jun 05, 2005: Moving up the Food Chain

I have this fantasy that in about ten or twenty years, companies will hire "information guys" as senior managers just like they hire "numbers guys" and "process guys" today. Am I just dreaming?

It's not uncommon for organizations to bring on leaders whose expertise trumps their lack of familiarity with a new employer's products and services. Might some smart IA-turned-CEO turn around Ford in 2020, before moving on to a completely different business (say, Merck) a few years later?

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Comment: vanderwal (Jun 5, 2005)

I really would like to believe this. I think the first step is to hire "information guys" into the Chief Information Officer (CIO) position. Most I have met and read about are actually CTO (technical) with the thinking technology will solve the information problem (er, it can, but it is the wrong order to approach the problems). We need strong, bright, and innovative people in the CIO role that understand information and how people think about the their work and how they use and reuse information in their workflows and the workflows of the company.

Once people start showing innovation and strong value in the CIO role the door to the CEO's office can become open to them.

Where technology was once a discriminator between companies, it is now as normal as a filing cabinet. Where it can become a differentiator is when people can actually use technology to make their work life better and more efficient. I think we are far more efficient than we were years ago, but we are a few large leaps away from where we should be.

One of the changes must be changing the dynamic from centralized information flows to personalized information flows. The information systems need to get smarter at knowing what is within the system and making the connections to what may/will be relevant to the person and moving that information closer as well as providing context.

Comment: Livia Labate (Jun 6, 2005)

During the 2004 IA Summit there was a discussion about whether IAs would become more generalists or specialize into certain domains like financial services, ecommerce, academic, pharmaceutical, etc. I never believe this specialization would happen, precisely because I like to imagine the future you described.

Thomas hit the nail on the head mentioning the change of focus from centralized to personalizaed information flows. It is precisely in building relationships that the 'information guys' skills are different from the 'number' and 'process' guys. It is because the 'information' guys have a more holistic understanding of things and are not hooked up on the data or the discrete processes that they can establish the meaningful relationships.

It is also in building relationships that we can differentiate this economic cycle from the previous ones focusing of services, products and goods (in reverse). Because this is already identifiable, I don't think it's something to expect 10 or 20 years for, but 5 or less.

It might mean that the self-taught 'information guys' rise to the top or that business schools or other originators of current talents embrace the new skills and disciplines necessary, but it will happen one way or another.

Yaay for the information guys. And gals.

Comment: Rob Fay (Jun 6, 2005)

I am completing a degree in information management, and part of my motivation for pursuing this degree is so that I can be a change agent in any company I work for.

There needs to be a cultural shift with companies where the emphasis is less on the "technology" part of "I.T." and more emphasis is on the "information" part. Companies need to emulate Robert Buchman of Buchman Laboratories. Mr. Buchman made sharing knowledge part of his company’s core values. One structural change he implemented to reinforce this value
was to fold his IS, telecommunications, and
company library departments into a new
department called “Knowledge Transfer.”

I agree with Thomas - this change might start by placing information experts in positions such as CIO. However, hopefully companies will start implementing new positions, such as CKO (Chief Knowledge Officer), and differentiate this from a CTO (Chief Technical Officer) position.

Comment: Susan Paulsen Moller (Jun 6, 2005)

This is happening in the company I work for right now. They are actively seeking an "Information Guy/Gal". This is an "information company" whose core business is its intellectual property and analysis.

You will start to hear about this more in the next few years from a lot of industries (especially financial) in the areas of publishing and analysis. More heavy-duty research information, such as pharma, is handled by highly trained informatics specialists (i.e. medical, genetic, or bio tech) and from what I've seen in my work with all of the top Pharma co's, they exclusively use SAS. BUT, that will change in the next 5 - 10 years (a slower rate of change that tracks with the drug life-cycle), as you see advances in analytics technology and less specialized users taking over information management tasks.

Comment: Edward Vielmetti (Jun 6, 2005)

(or gals)

With the surplus of information in this world, I'm much more likely to guess that senior managers are going to be the ones that know how to focus people's attention, not so much that they have a huge grasp of or ability to organize informaiton.

Information is totally overwhelming most of us, but there's only so much time and energy to pay attention to things. not that the two aren't related of course....

Comment: Lou (Jun 6, 2005)

Great comments, all you info guys and gals out there. Rob, I'm all for putting the "I" back into IT, and Thomas, I agree that the first step is to get CIOs to be something other than CTOs. Livia, I'm not so sure it'll happen as soon as you think, as much as I wish this was the case. When it comes to choosing CEOs, corporate boards have a lot to say, and until the guard changes on boards, I'm afraid it won't change much for CEOs.

Comment: Dave (Jun 7, 2005)

hmm? I'm a bit on the negative side here. Very few people make it to the C-slot w/o a strong background in just plain old business management. A CIO even often has an MA in management, even my CTO is going for his MBA right now. Management is the core skill of managing, and you can have any number of specialists under you including info specialists. If you really want to move that high up in the corporate ladder at a company like Ford, I suggest getting an MBA. Your expertise in information can be very useful, but your ability to manage will be key.

The other side to this is being able to lead innovation. This to me is also not an "info" guy core skill. IA has not shown itself to be an innovation process. More to that point the work being done within design management seems much more to the key point. So I really don't see an "info" guy/gal moving into the position of a C-slot nearly as much as I see someone who takes a Fast Company approach to design innovation + a true business management appreciation and practice.

In the end, business is well business.

Comment: Joe Lamantia (Jun 7, 2005)

I'm bullish on the outlook for "Information Types" having more responsibility and authority within businesses both in the near and longer term future. Business - to generalize - is just now beginning to recognize the size and importance of the problem of managing and using information well for strategic advantage. This means that the models, functional roles, and titles or positions within organizations that become the focus points for the responsibility and influence (power) are in flux.

In terms of career paths and growth opportunities, the who, where, and how are up for grabs still, and this is where we need to focus our efforts on climbing the

CIO is one logical - to us - seat at the table (that is what we want, right?) to aim for that exists now within large organizations. I expect that we'll see some of our community begin growing into the role of an Information Type CIO soon. Don't we have someone titled VP if IA in our community now?

As Dave says, the ability to speak to, understand, and be effective from the business perspective is critical. We're making good strides, but I think this is one of the obstacles we need to overcome as a profession before we will have the responsibility and authority we know we deserve. Anything that furthers this goal - an MBA, an MIS/IT Masters, or something else - is worth pursuing.

The Zachmann framework is an example of a technology centered way of approaching the strategic alignment of business and technology. I've been working on ways to plug IA into Zachmann, but they keep falling short because the basic philosophy of the framework is centered on the technology.

This is like designing your publishing business around the printing presses, instead of around what people want to read.

We need the IA equivalent of Zachmann: an information centered way of describing and aligning all aspects of a business. This will put us in a place to speak at the head table as peers with CTO's and old-style CIO's, since we'll be advocating a position and point of view on the strategic role of information using business terms and from a business perspective.

And don't forget that there are already quite a few people aiming for that same CIO spot right now...

Comment: Livia Labate (Jun 7, 2005)

Here's my rant, which might comes off as arrogant if you forget that the goals is to achieve what is in the best interest of the business:

We don't need to be CEOs to change the way things are done. Info guys and gals have the opportunity to wipe out the stupidity of middle management and gain control of the tactical level. That is how we'll rise to the top.

The strategic level needs to support it, but they won't do it until they are shown the value of what we are proposing. They are not going to believe empty promises, but they will believe in what we deliver. They'll start hiring "information" guys and gals when the information guys and gals who have infiltrated middle-management prove them that this is what is needed.

To your original point Lou, in the coming years we will experience these information people becoming managers, and senior managers, but it is a path that needs to be paved. There is absolutely no reason why a board would select an information person for a CEO role. They need proof.

It might take a decade for them to actually see it, but by the time this happens, the information guys and gals will have already accomplished the job of instigating change and providing results. And that's really what I meant when I said what we can achieve for the next few years.

Job titles are not equivalent to power. Middle managers have a lot of power, they just do a crappy job using that power because they don't know they have it - they think the ones with the C-level job titles do. The information guys and gals will naturally surface to the C-level because, as Stan Lee put it, with great power comes great responsibility. And that's really what the C-level is, responsible and accountable for everything that happens.

Furthermore, I couldn't be less interested in a CIO or CTO position. To me they are fictitious ways to empower the technology and information guys and gals, while the CEO is really the person running the business.

We want to influence the direction of the business, not the direction of discrete parts of it (well, I don’t and the people I know don’t). The information guys and gals need to be instigators of change. We just happen to specialize on the currency of this economic cycle, information. The data guys and technology gals missed that by settling for pseudo-C positions.

I believe we know better. Or at least we have the same window of opportunity that was given to those other groups. We just need to use it more wisely. My position is that we need to focus on the right things and leverage the right attributes without kidding ourselves that we are intrinsically better or smarter. We have to be better and smarter by understanding what went wrong with the people that preceded us and what went right with the people who succeeded at it.

Comment: Paula Thornton (Jun 8, 2005)

Speaking from experience living deep in the bowels of IT for decades, remaining technologically 'agnostic', I only ended up in IT because that's was where 'real projects' were happening to change the way businesses operated. That was the vision. I now believe that businesses fundamentally (for the most part) just 'happen'.

Wanting to maintain my 'collegial' association with IA-sorts, I've lost most interest in the 'information' part of it all -- but will stand on the sidelines cheering you all on. The hope would be that if we could get a distinct focus on Information and Technology (give up the 'knowledge' pursuit...it's a bad term...knowledge is situationally 'relevant'... you can't capture or deliver knowledge), then we can collectively serve as co-captains working toward similar goals.

A commendable example of a company using the 'right words' for a hopeful effort toward a 'new world' organizational alignment (I have no first-hand experience to report on the 'reality', nor do I think it's 'perfect', just a notable effort) is Nokia. Check out their organizational diagram where they've aligned two critical efforts labeled, "Customer and Market Operations" and "Technology Platforms" in a horizontal path to support the vertical activities of the business: http://www.nokia.com/nokia/0,8764,33080,00.html

Note that 'information' is not referenced. This is reasonable, because 'information' is a commodity/resource just like all other resources. The management of information should be equal to the management of financial resources. Note that 'financial' and other resource activities are 'silent' partners to this business model.

As to the original question, being CEO is only significant for small businesses. The focus of a CEO in larger organizations is fundamentally 'outside' of the company. The goal would be to be where 'making a difference' can happen. Where that focus would/could/should be will vary from business to business (e.g. within Marriott, Vice Presidents run entire lines of business, in a bank you have to have a VP title just to manage a departmental budget).

Again, the goal would be for 'us' to create more diversity in the roles we bring to the table, so that we can collectively be influencing the 'win' by collectively serving as say both the defensive coach and special teams coaches.

At first blush, the larger body of IA practitioners do not opt for business degrees. Such academic/experiential augmentation will continue to be necessitated to serve in these 'broader' roles. Having both perspectives is not for everyone, nor should it be (we still desperately need specialists), but having both is 'gold'.

May the 'collective' thrive.

Comment: Dave (Jun 8, 2005)

Speaking of paving roads ...

So few IAs actually work in house, and even fewer high level IAs stay there.

How are we going to pave if we aren't even on the path?

Comment: Lou (Jun 8, 2005)

Dave, don't know if I'd totally agree; I think that there are actually many in-house IAs, in practice if not in name. But you're right about the high-level folks leaving to start up their own entities.

Of course, that doesn't mean all advanced innies will fly the coop. To do so requires an entrepreneurial bent, and that's not necessarily a common quality in IA practitioners. So maybe plenty of good folks will stay put and continue to change organizations from within.

Comment: Livia Labate (Jun 8, 2005)

I moved from consulting to an in-house IA job with the intention of better understand the business needs and issues my corporate clients faced so I could go back to consulting and do a better job.

However, now that I'm an "innie" I see a whole new world of possibilities I didn't even knoow existed. Consulting seems far less interesting to me right now and one of the main reasons is the ability to instigate really meaningfull changes.

From a corporate perspective, hiring consultants and contractors is not a susteinable model and I attribute that to the current rise of jobs offer we see in the market today.

I don't know if it's an indentifiable trend, but I would hope more people would move in-house so they can be the change agents they have the power to be.

Comment: dave (Jun 9, 2005)

There have been some interest threads I think on either SIGIA-L or IxDG about why this phenomena is that so few senior creatives stay in house (and ever rarely stay in-house for a long period of time).

I do agree with Livia, that the opportunities are just tremendous if you see it the way you described, as a true ability to effect deep change.

However, I have read that many many senior designers do not want to be change makers, but rather change initiators, or change actualizers. However, the results of change take years to be felt and few designers want to have their portfolio sit lapsing away while they wait in earnest for such change.

I think this difference is something that really separates the design type from the business type.

The other trend I have seen is that many in-house designers, move from job to job every 2-5 years and that business types stay in one place a lot longer.

Comment: Rob Fay (Jun 9, 2005)

I think, perhaps, we need to look at Lou's fantasy with a lense that is broader than just from the perspective of an information architect or the "technical" or "creative" professional. Traditionally, the IA term leans towards work focusing on the end product of information systems and web design.

I would argue that an "information guy" can be someone who is not necessarily "on the warehouse floor" focusing on technology or the creative - the end product of system and web design and rollout. At the high level that Lou proposes, this person would be more responsible for business strategy by 1)evangelizing "information" as a resource, 2)mapping the information resources of the organization (not necessarily information that is available on an information system), and 3)implementing strategies and policies (security, sharing) to leverage information systems or to initiate an organizational culture change.

Every "information professional" (IAs, librarians, IS developers, program analysts, etc.) should leverage his or her professional experiences in order to sell the concept that "information" is a resource on par with "human" resources, "financial" resources, and "physical" resources. Information as a resource should be managed just as any other resource - the difficulty being that it dynamically crosses the boundaries of traditional resource pools (i.e., human resource information, financial, physical assets, etc.). Once management understands and values this principle, I feel that information professionals will have a better shot at what Lou proposes.

Most importantly, information professionals need to determine, as Dave mentions, whether or not they want to be change agents. A change agent must be willing to be business-savvy and must be able to articulate a vision.

I would recommend you read the following classic book available through Amazon.com:

*Infomap: A Complete Guide to Discovering Corporate Information Sources*

by Cornelius F., Jr. Burk, Forest W., Jr. Horton

Dr. Horton is a big evangelist in the field of information management - information as a resource...

Comment: Tino Buntic (Jun 19, 2005)

This is the first time of heard the term "information archtiect." I wouldn't mind there being a VP of IA at my company.

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