Cover story

The CIO’s business case

We all know that the CIO is expected to add real business value, but how do you measure this?

02 October 2023

Jon Tullett, IDC.

There’s consternation among the copywriters when the room-sized IBM System/360 mainframe arrives in the offices of the fictional ad agency Sterling Cooper & Partners. It’s 1969, and this happens in the miniseries Mad Men, the cut and thrust account of New York’s advertising world. Consternation, not least because the creatives’ meeting room has been demolished to make way for the monster machine, but the question hangs in the air – a little like today’s striking screenwriters – what will this mean for the writers? It’s too much for one highly-strung adman in the show, and he’s carried off in a straightjacket.

The computer (which would have had between 2MB and 8MB of memory) wasn’t ordered by the CIO – it would be decades before the role emerged – but in that same year, IBM engineer Irvin Miller introduced readers of the Harvard Business Review to a powerful new capability of the 360, the “interactive graphics display terminal”. The executive, as Miller wrote, “can call for the curves that he needs on the screen; then, by touching the screen with the light pen, he can order the computer to calculate new values and redraw the graphs, which it does almost instantaneously”. Here, for the first time, was a machine offering real business value, and with it, the chance to get a jump on your competitors.

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