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How the CIO came to be: The history of chief information officers

Byron Connolly | Jan. 25, 2013
Two industry veterans take a trip down memory lane.

"It [ADP] held on in government for a bit longer. I remember in the '80s, some government IT managers still being called ADP managers."

Philipson was selling PCs in the early 1980s and joined Yankee Group as an analyst in 1984 when the concept of end users in an organisation was becoming popular.

"At the beginning of the '80s, no-one had a computer on their desk; by the end of the '80s everyone did, every white collar worker," he says. "And that's not an exaggeration; we went from zero penetration to total penetration in business and government, in knowledge and white collar workers within that decade."

He says that by the early '90s, the term MIS manager was still more common than the relatively new role of CIO.

"The role of MIS was being defined in terms of providing information systems to management. It really did not take into account the concept of the end user," he says.

John Roberts, research vice-president at Gartner's CIO and executive leadership research team, says during the early 1980s organisations recognised "IT people were not just providing calculator systems but really delivering information." This was despite the fact that enterprises were still generally building bespoke applications.

He recalls working in the distribution department of Mobil Oil Australia in 1980 using customised code to build an order taking and truck delivery optimisation system.

"I remember one of our great concerns moving from a system where customers would ring up their individual depot and place an order to an Australia-wide system, was [whether] the 1800 numbers would work." Roberts went on to become general manager of information systems at the company.

The mainframe is dead; long live the CIO

Gartner's Roberts recalls newspaper headlines from the mid-1990s stating that mainframe computing was dead, giving way to a new breed of open systems and integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications.

"It was probably around that timeframe when the CIO was no longer delivering [technology] to individual managers [but] had a broader information delivery responsibility across the organisation."

"I think that once you have an enterprise-grade application, then it's no longer the IT manager delivering to the requests of individual line managers, for example, a purchasing manager saying built me a purchasing or order taking system or whatever it might be," Roberts says.

"The CIO no longer had an individual brief but rather started to operate as a member of the C-level suite because enterprise information was clearly critical right across the organisation."

Philipson believes that although the CIO role has become more common since the mid-1990s, there is still a "real mishmash" of job titles, depending on the size and type of organisation.


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