How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer

David Fletcher, CTO, State of Utah | 10/16/2013 | 8 comments

David Fletcher
How can a single person succeed simultaneously as an organization's chief infrastructure officer and as its chief innovation officer? Most CIOs can relate to challenges involved in the dual roles they are increasingly being asked to fill.

Indeed, innovation was on the minds of many CIOs at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers 2013 Annual Conference. Attendees at the conference, Oct. 13-16 in Philadelphia, represented 49 US states and four territories.

During the conference, a group of city CIOs met with their state counterparts to discuss common challenges, particularly the need to be innovative while at the same time attending to core infrastructure needs. Such universal challenges will likely ring true for many CIOs working in the private sector as well.

A NASCIO white paper, "State CIO Leadership in Government Innovation and Transformation," published in October 2013, tackled these challenges head on, and compared the experiences of state CIOs with those of their private-sector counterparts.

The white paper was developed using five sources of research: a compilation of publicly available information; findings of NASCIO's 2012 State CIO Survey; data from the organization's "State CIO Priorities for 2013" report; interviews with CIOs from select states; and interviews with private-sector CIOs.

According to the white paper:

    CIOs face a mixture of issues and opportunities that can support government operations, grow capabilities, and enable the transformation of the way government does business. Various third parties have defined this as the 'nexus of forces' or 'disruptors' (cloud, mobile, data and analytics, and social computing). This convergence is transforming solutions, business processes, and roles, forcing a reprioritization of relationships, modifying the traditional roles of authority, and placing new emphasis on innovation, data, vendor relations management, and hybrid public/private business models.

The core issues raised in the white paper were succinctly summed up in the title of a panel discussion during the NASCIO annual conference: "The Challenge of Managing Innovation While Keeping the Trains Running On Time." Panelists included Adel Ebeid, Chief Innovation Officer of the City of Philadelphia; Michael Powell, Chief Innovation Officer of the State of Maryland; John Deklinksi, Governor's Office Director of Innovation; and Bill Oates, CIO, City of Boston.

Some CIOs are opting for the "innovation" route, going so far as to change their titles to reflect this role. During the panel discussion, Ebeid talked about why he has officially adopted the title of Chief Innovation Officer, noting that he chose to emphasize that aspect of his job while promoting civic hackathons, mobile government services, and open data.

Ebeid suggested during the session that, when CIOs fail to address the innovation agenda, they risk becoming another type of CIO: The Chief Irrelevant Officer.

During his conference keynote address, Alan Gregerman, author of the book The Necessity of Strangers, spoke about why we regularly need to reach outside our immediate circle when seeking ways to innovate.

The NASCIO white paper provides additional guidance for "how CIOs can evolve their roles and change the lens through which the role is viewed." Among the top tips:

  • Stay informed on all of the critical issues facing the state, and specifically the issues the Administration is pursuing. Do not limit this information to technology uses only.

  • Proactively communicate the status of issues and threats to delivery of government services, i.e. cybersecurity.

  • Stay informed on how disruptive and enabling opportunities, technologies, solutions, and business models could help support and drive state priorities.

  • Identify how IT can facilitate, enhance, or improve the core lines of the state's functions or processes.

  • Develop personal relationships with critical decision makers in the administration through visits, assistance to staff, sharing of information and understanding of their challenges.

How do you view your role as CIO? Should the CIO become a Chief Innovation Officer? What other ways would you like to see the role of CIO evolve? Tell me about it in the comments section below.

Related posts:

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
kstaron   How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer   10/29/2013 2:34:16 PM
Outside the box
I think part of being an officer of innovation as well as information involves surrounding yourself with people outside the tech part of business so you can know what's going on and be exposed to other ideas that you can translate into technological innovation for your company.
Susan Nunziata   How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer   10/22/2013 2:52:48 PM
Re: Room for all?
@David: Thanks, I'm adding that book to my reading list. 

I particularly like this idea:

He also suggests that when we hire new people we should get them to open up about ways that we can improve while they are still new to the organization...

I have seen time and again where folks who come into a company with great new ideas have their ideas squashed by the "old-timers" who are so ingrained in the corporate culture that their automatic response to anything new is "no".

I'm involved in a project at my company where we are looking to create an idea incubator, it's still very much in the preliminary stages, I hope to be able to share more information about this next year.

Can you share more about how you encourage idea generation and innovation in your own organizaiton?
davidfletcher   How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer   10/22/2013 11:57:33 AM
Re: Room for all?

Alan Gregerman, who spoke at the NASCIO conference shared some interesting insights on that topic.  He has a book called "The Necessity of Strangers" which talks about the importance of not just surrounding ourselves by people who think the same as we do.  He also suggests that when we hire new people we should get them to open up about ways that we can improve while they are still new to the organization as a way to tap new ideas before they are ingrained in the existing corporate culture.

Innovation can come from anywhere.  The CIO needs to be able to recognize it, tap into it and exploit it effectively with the right resources and support.
Susan Nunziata   How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer   10/22/2013 12:05:27 AM
Room for all?
Thanks for sharing your learnings from the NASCIO event, David. What kind of skills do you think a Chief Innovation Officer should have?

I see this as an exciting new oportunity for people in IT to combine their technical knowldge, their business knowledge and the creativity into a new and fascinating role.

davidfletcher   How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer   10/21/2013 12:14:37 PM
Hi Soozyg,

In our organization, my primary responsibilities as CTO are to focus on innovation, technical architecture and (since I work for state government) digital government. We also have a chief operating officer that makes sure things continue to operate efficiently, freeing the CIO to oversee the whole thing,  as well as focus on interactions with the cabinet, the legislature and our many customer agencies. I know that varies for many organizations.  So the Chief Innovation Officer may vary from organization to organization, but I think the CIO (Chief Information Officer) needs to make sure that the innovation function continues to be an important part of the IT organization to ensure its relevance going forward.  In a world where cloud services can easily replace many of an IT shop's traditional functions, the ability to provide innovation to the enterprise can certainly set it apart and establish its relevance.

Thanks for your comments,

tekedge   How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer   10/19/2013 2:44:20 PM
How to Avoid Becoming The Chief Irrelevant Officer
@sooyz I agree. could not have said it better.  !
Ariella   How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer   10/17/2013 3:07:04 PM
good point about the distinction between the two roles, @soozyg
soozyg   How to Avoid Becoming the Chief Irrelevant Officer   10/17/2013 8:18:10 AM
Interesting article. I would think the CTO would be a different position from the CIO (Innovation). Both are needed and fill two different roles. CTO would work under the CIO and manage/direct regular, day-to-day issues and maintenance, while the CIO would work to move the company forward, including thinking of ways to improve the issues the CTO deals with.

The blogs and comments posted on do not reflect the views of TechWeb,, or its sponsors., TechWeb, and its sponsors do not assume responsibility for any comments, claims, or opinions made by authors and bloggers. They are no substitute for your own research and should not be relied upon for trading or any other purpose.

More Blogs from David Fletcher
David Fletcher   4/29/2014   21 comments
Almost all IT organizations require a wide variety of skills and expertise to make things work properly. CIOs of large organizations require an even broader array of skills, and they often ...
David Fletcher   3/24/2014   12 comments
Two years ago, the Obama Administration launched the Big Data Research and Development Initiative. The idea behind the initiative was that by improving the way we manage massive amounts of ...
David Fletcher   1/2/2014   18 comments
The number of social media channels continues to grow and many organizations are having difficulty determining how many channels to support and for what purpose. These are continuing to ...
David Fletcher   12/5/2013   11 comments
Last week, Mexico's president, Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office just a year ago, laid out an ambitious plan for using technology to elevate his country's global status. The National ...
David Fletcher   11/19/2013   29 comments
Most government agencies do not have a marketing department. How can a government CIO hope to influence public-facing experiences? By teaming up with an agency's public information officer.
Latest Archived Broadcast
We talk with Bernard Golden about accelerating application delivery in the cloud.
On-demand Video with Chat
Register for this video discussion to learn how tablets can provide true business usability and productivity.
E2 IT Migration Zones
IT Migration Zone - UK
Why PowerShell Is Important
Reduce the Windows 8 Footprint for VDI
Rethinking Storage Management
IT Migration Zone - FR
SQL Server : 240 To de mémoire flash pour votre data warehouse
Quand Office vient booster les revenus Cloud et Android de Microsoft
Windows Phone : Nokia veut davantage d'applications (et les utilisateurs aussi)
IT Migration Zone - DE
Cloud Computing: Warum Unternehmen trotz NSA auf die „private“ Wolke setzen sollten
Cloud Computing bleibt Wachstumsmarkt – Windows Azure ist Vorreiter
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Enterprise Efficiency Twitter Feed
Site Moderators Wanted
Enterprise Efficiency is looking for engaged readers to moderate the message boards on this site. Engage in high-IQ conversations with IT industry leaders; earn kudos and perks. Interested? E-mail:
Dell's Efficiency Modeling Tool
The major problem facing the CIO is how to measure the effectiveness of the IT department. Learn how Dell’s Efficiency Modeling Tool gives the CIO two clear, powerful numbers: Efficiency Quotient and Impact Quotient. These numbers can be transforma¬tive not only to the department, but to the entire enterprise.

Read the full report
The State of Enterprise Efficiency in the Virtual Era: Virtualization – Smart Approaches to Maximize Gains
Virtualization is a presence in nearly all enterprise data centers. But not all companies are using it to its best effect. Learn the common characteristics of success, what barriers companies face, and how to get the most from your efforts.

Read the full report
Informed CIO: Dollars & Sense: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
Cut through the VDI hype and get the full picture -- including ROI and the impact on your Data Center -- to make an informed decision about your virtual desktop infrastructure deployments.

Read the full report
A Video Case Study – Translational Genomics Research Institute
e2 Video

On the Case
TGen IT: Where We're Going Next

7|11|12   |   08:12   |   10 comments

Now that TGen has broken new ground in genomic research by using Dell's storage, cloud, and high-performance computing solutions, the company discusses what will come next for it and for personalized medicine.
On the Case
Better Care Through Better Communications

6|6|12   |   02:24   |   11 comments

The achievements of the TGen/Dell project could improve how all people receive healthcare, because they are creating ways to improve end-to-end communication of medical data.
On the Case
TGen IT: Where We Are Now

5|15|12   |   06:58   |   6 comments

TGen is breaking new ground in genomic research by using Dell's storage, cloud, and high-performance computing solutions.
On the Case
TGen IT: Where We Were

4|27|12   |   06:45   |   10 comments

The Translational Genomics Research Institute wanted to save lives, but its efforts were hobbled by immense computing challenges related to collecting, processing, sharing, and storing enormous amounts of data.
On the Case
1,200% Faster

4|18|12   |   02:27   |   12 comments

Through their partnership, Dell and TGen have increased the speed of TGen’s medical research by 1,200 percent.
On the Case
IT May Improve Children's Chances of Survival

4|17|12   |   02:12   |   8 comments

IT is helping medical researchers reach breakthroughs in a way and pace never seen before.
On the Case
Medical Advances in the Cloud

4|10|12   |   1:25   |   5 comments

TGen and Dell are pushing the boundaries of computing, and harnessing the power of the cloud to improve healthcare.
On the Case
TGen: Living the Mission

4|9|12   |   2:25   |   3 comments

TGen's CIO puts the organizational mission at the heart of everything the IT staff does.
On the Case
TGen Speeding Up Biomedical Research to Save More Lives

4|5|12   |   1:59   |   6 comments

The Translational Genomics Research Institute is revamping its computing to improve speed, storage, and collaboration – and, most importantly, to save lives.
On the Case
Computing Power Helping to Save Children's Lives

3|28|12   |   2:13   |   3 comments

The Translational Genomics Institute’s partnership with Dell is enabling them to treat kids with neuroblastoma more quickly and save more lives.
Tom Nolle
The Big Reason to Use Office

3|18|14   |   02:24   |   46 comments

Office and personal productivity tools come in a first-class and coach flavor set, but what makes the difference is primarily little things that most users won't encounter. What's the big issue in using something other than Office, and can you get around it?
E2 Editors
SPONSORED: Mobile Security — A Use Case

3|4|14   |   04:27   |   16 comments

New mobile security solutions can accommodate a wide array of needs, including those of a complex university environment.
Tom Nolle
Killing Net Neutrality Might Save You Money

1|16|14   |   2:13   |   16 comments

The DC Court of Appeals voided most of the Neutrality Order, and whatever it might mean for the Internet overall, it might mean better and cheaper Internet VPNs for businesses.
Tom Nolle
The Internet of Everythinguseful

1|10|14   |   2:18   |   19 comments

We really don't want an "Internet of Everything" but even building an Internet of Everythinguseful means setting some ground rules to insure there's value in the process and that costs and risks are minimized.
Tom Nolle
Maturing Google Chrome

12|30|13   |   2.18   |   25 comments

Google's Chrome OS has a lot of potential value and a lot of recent press, but it still needs something to make it more than a thin client. It needs cloud integration, it needs extended APIs via web services, and it needs to suck it up and support a hard drive.
Sara Peters
No More Cookie-Cutter IT

12|23|13   |   03.58   |   21 comments

Creating the right combination of technology, people, and processes for your IT organization is a lot like baking Christmas cookies.
Sara Peters
Smart Wigs Not a Smart Idea

12|5|13   |   3:01   |   46 comments

Sony is seeking a patent for wigs that contain computing devices.
Tom Nolle
Cloud in the Wild

12|4|13   |   02:23   |   15 comments

On a recent African trip I saw examples of the value of the cloud in developing nations, for educational and community development programs. We could build on this, but not only in developing economies, because these same programs are often under-supported even in first-world countries.
E2 Editors
SPONSORED: Is Malware Evading Your IPS?

11|18|13   |   03:16   |   4 comments

Intrusion prevention software is supposed to detect and block malware intrusions, but clever malware authors can evade your IPS in these five main ways.
Sara Peters
Where Have All the Mentors Gone?

9|27|13   |   3:15   |   38 comments

A good professional mentor can change your life for the better... but where do you find one?
Tom Nolle
SDN Wars & You Could Win

9|17|13   |   2:10   |   5 comments

VMware's debate with Cisco on SDN might finally create a fusion between an SDN view that's all about software and another that's all about network equipment. That would be good for every enterprise considering the cloud and SDN.
Ivan Schneider
The Future of the Smart Watch

9|12|13   |   3:19   |   39 comments

Wearing a bulky, oversized watch is good training for the next phase in wristwatches: the Internet-enabled, connected watch. Why the smartphone-tethered connected watch makes sense, plus Ivan demos an entirely new concept for the "smart watch."
Tom Nolle
Cutting Your Cloud Storage Costs

9|4|13   |   2:06   |   3 comments

Cloud storage costs are determined primarily by the rate at which files are changed and the possibility of concurrent access/update. If you can structure your storage use to optimize these factors you can cut costs, perhaps to zero.
Sara Peters
Do CIOs Need an IT Background?

8|29|13   |   2:11   |   23 comments

Most of the CIOs interviewed in the How to Become a CIO series did not start their careers as IT professionals. So is an IT background essential?
Ivan Schneider
The Internet Loves Birthdays

8|27|13   |   3:25   |   69 comments

The Internet has evolved into a machine for drumming up a chorus of "Happy Birthday" messages, from family, friends, friends of friends who you added on Facebook, random people that you circled on G+, and increasingly, automated bots. Enough already.