What’s the Future of the CIO?


CIOs have an opportunity to drive strategy and create business value, and not just reduce costs

Traditional IT departments are being dismantled piece-by-piece. Cloud services, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and even the drive for tighter integration with our partners, are poking holes in our IT organizations. More and more of the technology that our businesses use is purchased and controlled by someone other than the IT department.

But is this such a bad thing? As IT leaders, do we want to continue to be chief infrastructure owners and order takers?

The traditional CIO role is fading into the sunset. The businesses we work for are moving from needing to own technology to focusing on using what they can find around them.

We have an opportunity to carve out a new role for ourselves. A role where we bring together the technologies and skills our business needs to drive itself forward. The technology our business needs if it is to avoid problems and pounce on opportunities.

CIOs have the opportunity to make themselves as invaluable to their businesses as the CFO. The CIO as the in-depth professional who ensures that technology is an opportunity to exploited, rather than an albatross that drags the business down.

The demise of the Chief Infrastructure Officer

Our IT departments were built around the need for centralized control of expensive IT assets. Aside from brief episodes, such as the birth of spreadsheets and the desktop PC, most IT departments have kept a tight rein on where and how technology is used.

The success of our business depended on the quality of the tools it uses – the business processes and systems we rely on to keep the organization humming – as the business will fail if its tools fail. It’s not hard to find a business that will be significantly out of pocket if a core system fails at an inopportune moment, taking a day’s orders with it.

However, the environment our IT departments operate in has changed. We’ve used technology to solve the vast majority of the internal problems that business has, from maintaining finances through to managing supply chains and customer records.

The problems that our legacy solutions solve are now well enough understood for the solutions to be delivered as a service. Many of us are in the process of swapping our expensive on-premises solutions for more adaptable cloud-based services. This shift to cloud-based services is removing many of the traditional responsibilities of a CIO.

Technology is now central to how our organizations engage their market

The focus for enterprise technology has shifted from internal to external problems.

How do we integrate the heterogeneous and global supplier networks we need to operate in today’s global economy?

How do we support a workforce where many of the people working for our business are not employed by it? Our workforce is mobile, knitted together from baby boomers through Gen X to Gen Y, staff from suppliers and partners, through to free agents and even our customers.

How do we make sense of the many weak and confusing signals from the market, using social media as something more than a dog whistle? And how do we unlock the value in the disparate databases, spreadsheets and documents spread around our enterprise?

Which CxO will “own” technology?

We can see the shift in technology from an internal to an external focus is the tension between the CMO and CIO.

Many CMOs are on a similar journey to that which the supply chain team went through in the 80s and 90s. They’re experimenting with technology as they work to solve a poorly-defined and unstructured problem.

Our supply chain toolkit was built on the inventory management solutions installed at factories and warehouses, creating event management and planning solutions to help manage the flow of goods. Finally sales and operations planning was used to tie the end-to-end supply chain together.

Supply chain matured from a craft into a science as we broke apart the problem and then built out the toolkit needed to run an efficient supply chain.

CMOs are investing in new technology and new solutions. They’re building social media war rooms. They’re experimenting as they work to develop the toolkit they need to run an efficient and effective marketing operation. A marketing operation that must live in a world dominated by social media and omni-channel.

Best practice is currently based on disconnected solutions and tribal knowledge. Best practice, however, will mature rapidly, just as it did in supply chain.

The CMO is discovering what signals from the market to pay attention to (and which to ignore), what technology works (and what doesn’t) and how to structure their team to enable it to scale.

IT leaders have a lot to offer the CMO, just as we do to other business leaders.

CIO: Chief Inspiration / Innovation / Integration Officer

The IT department can help pollinate ideas and technology across the business, and across partners and industry. IT can make connections between needs and (potential) solutions.

We can help the business procure and manage their technology, ensuring that it is secure and reliable. And we can help them make the most of their technology purchases by integrating them into the business.

HR departments have renewed themselves by helping the business get the most from its knowledge workers; creative, problem solving people within the business. IT leadership can renew itself by helping the business get the most from its technology.

In an age when technology is woven into the very fabric of the business, companies depend on it not just to save money through automation but to also create opportunities.

Few companies would consider doing without a CFO and finance department, as finance is central to resource management. Few companies will be able to do without a CIO and IT department, as IT is central to a company’s ability to engage the market and create new opportunities.

Our business now lives or dies in its skill in using technology

Businesses used to live or die on the quality of their tools: the business processes and solutions that they invested so heavily in. Today businesses live or die on their ability to adapt: their ability to use the tools around them to solve the problem (or capitalize on the opportunity) in front of them.

The CIO is the in-depth professional who can bring together the technologies and skills that the business needs to drive itself forward, to enable it to avoid problems, and to pounce on opportunities and adapt.

IT is no longer just a cost of doing business. IT has become one of our major tools to engage customers and go to market. IT is now firmly at the centre of business, and our business will fail if we fail to use IT effectively.

What is your experience with the changing role of the CIO? Will IT spend migrate out of the IT department leaving an empty husk behind? Or can we reinvent the CIO role? And if so, what does the future CIO role look like?