The resilient and evolutionary IT leader is nothing new in the world of technology, the latest incarnation being the CIO. In fact, the role of the CIO has been in continual formation, evolving from “information systems manager” in the late 1970s and changing in each era of computing – Mainframe, Distributed Computing, Web and now Post-PC. At each step an IT leader assumed new responsibilities and the title changed accordingly. However, despite the technology differences spanning these eras, there is a sense that, for the most part, the IT leader role was fairly consistent across companies and industries which meant that whatever IT a company had, the CIO or IT director ran it.
Today’s IT leaders are operating at varying levels of the organisation, with differing and frequently changing missions. We are seeing increasingly divergent definitions for the role across companies and industry sectors. These are ominous conditions that could impact the CIO in a major way. There is now a very real possibility that the role of CIO could become a casualty due to a general lack of consensus as to what the title actually means and what exactly falls under the CIO’s remit.
The CIO’s current role is varied and involves a range of responsibilities from traditional provisioning of IT to ensuring the integrity of the network from ever-increasing threats and ensuring maximum uptime of business applications. All this is played out in the backdrop of reduced IT budgets and the need to demonstrate IT as a driver for business growth. It is very clear that there are huge variations in the current responsibilities assigned to CIOs.
While some would argue that the demise of the CIO may seem extreme, there is some basis for thinking the worst based on the evidence. At many large companies, non-IT executives are being empowered to make their own IT decisions and many business units are selecting their own IT solutions, merging the front and back offices in an IT-enabled business strategy. As executives get more comfortable with IT ownership, as consumerisation of corporate IT gets more prevalent and as business IT gets less and less asset-centric, IT decision making will continue to decentralise and move away from the hands of the CIO. This distribution of IT functions across the executive ranks is impacting the role and potentially the lifespan of the CIO.
Whilst this may sound like doom and gloom for the industry, CIOs need fear not! The CIO role can endure and the road to extinction can and will be avoided. CIOs need to recognise the current environment for what it is – the beginning of a radical change that will permeate their industries and their companies. They should assume their positions will probably turn abruptly over the coming years and they need to begin anticipating these changes. Accept that the ways people communicate, learn, work, organise, govern and conduct commerce are being hugely impacted by cloud-driven ubiquitous computing and this will alter the CIO’s responsibilities and areas of control.
These changes are serving as a catalyst for exploring new opportunities and creating an opening for forward-looking IT visionaries. CIOs cannot ignore the real opportunity they have to spearhead the introduction of entirely new business models and applications based on cloud computing while radically changing the cost structures underneath their legacy systems.
The most successful CIO in this new age will not only understand how the consumerisation of enterprise IT will change their industry, but will be vocal about how to move the business to respond to the new opportunities presented by the changing landscape. This visionary thinking will place IT at the heart of the business’ future strategy, ensuring that technology is not only seen in terms of hardware and cost cutting, but as a real driver of business revenue.
CIOs have huge credibility within their businesses in matters of technology and often see opportunities that others miss. Those who can give voice to these ideas will thrive regardless of their title and job description.
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