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Reading the tea leaves on the CIO job shakeup at BOfA

What to make of the news this week that Bank of America has put a consumer banking executive in the CIO job? Marc Gordon, who became CTO and later executive CIO after joining BofA from Best Buy in 2004, has been replaced by Laurie Readhead. According to the Reuters story, Readhead is a 20-year veteran in the bank’s finance and consumer banking divisions, most recently in charge of consumer bank “efficiency efforts and divestitures.”

On the surface, it’s tempting to frame this as fresh evidence that the role of the CIO as chieftain of IT — as czar of computers — is becoming extinct. Now that information is the currency of so many sections of any business, what’s needed in a CIO (whether plucked from the ranks of IT or from business) is someone more along the lines of a solicitous merchant. A super-savvy purveyor and custodian of information who knows exactly what information customers need and want — and, even better, what they don’t yet know they need and want. Think Steve Jobs; think Amazon.

So, is the shakeup in the CIO role at BofA a case in point? A quick look at the paper trail leading up to BofA’s big decision to put a business person in charge of IT suggests the situation is more complicated — and that Gordon’s departure was not unexpected. The bank is planning a massive consolidation of its IT operations, including the elimination of thousands of tech jobs and half of its 55 data centers. A September cover story in Bank Technology News makes it clear the task was not given to Gordon, the CIO, but rather put in the hands of Catherine Bessant, who goes by the title “Global Technology and Operations executive” for BofA. So, the bank certainly needs a top-down commando of technology assets — and a woman is leading the charge.

There’s another interesting aspect to the announcement that Gordon, to quote corporate-speak, is embarking on a “personal change in direction.” Before Gordon left, he was responsible for two important hires: a chief information security officer and a chief data officer — in other words, a protector and a purveyor of information! I don’t know the new CISO. However, I can tell you from a firsthand encounter with John Bottega, the bank’s new CDO, back when he was CDO at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, that this is a guy who takes his job as keeper and dispenser of business information very seriously. (His love of custom suits also suggests he knows a thing or two about retail.) Looking at my blog post, Chief data officers: Bringing data management strategy to the C-suite, made me think that no matter which way companies go on filling the CIO role — super-merchant or IT commando — the CIO job has come to a crossroads.

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