CIOs Uncensored: Are CIOs Disappearing (Part III): The Tipping Point
The role of the CIO is evolving. The reality as we reach this level will be the different ways organizations pursue the new order of IT business.
I've got some bad news, and some good news.
First the bad news: the venerable position of Chief Information Officer is under attack on multiple fronts, and while it will survive these attacks in some cases, it will, on the whole, be changed forever.
And now the good news: Businesses believe more vigorously than ever before in the power and value of strategically deployed IT, and their dependence upon it continues to grow.
Until recently, I believed that as long as the second point remains valid -- that IT continues to be increasingly indispensable in all types of industries -- then the role of the CIO would endure as the steward of business technology strategy, purchasing, and deployment. Sure, the priorities for CIOs would change over time, and the centralized/decentralized pendulum would swing back and forth eternally, and there'd always be some low-level chatter about fighting for "a seat at the table," and many CIOs would chant the sacred mantra of "we need to align the technology with the business," and so forth. But all that aside, I was just dead certain that the use of technology in businesses absolutely mandated the coexistence of a CIO to strategically oversee all that stuff and use it to drive business value.
Boy, was I wrong.
Because we have hit a tipping point in the evolution of the CIO. Until recently, that evolutionary path was pretty much linear -- DP manager to MIS director to VP of IS to CIO -- with little or no question about what the ultimate expression or end-state of that position would be: the CIO. But the new evolutionary track branches off into many directions as traditional line-of-business managers become far more sophisticated about technology, as more IT processes and services are outsourced, as companies integrate IT into global logistics and operations -- and as some companies begin to doubt the ability of a centralized IT czar to drive the level of business- and customer-driven change required to compete in this 21st-century economy.
One of the key repercussions will be how different organizations choose to pursue this new reality. Over the past decade or more, some businesses have aggressively positioned business technology and the CIO as strategic drivers of growth, customer loyalty, and competitive advantage, and these organizations will continue down that path by enhancing the CIO's ability to help the entire company deliver those results. For some prime examples of this type of company, look at the top tier in this weeks' InformationWeek 500 listing of the most-innovative corporate users of technology.
Other companies will choose to outsource most or all of their IT operations and services -- and that can be a completely appropriate approach in some industries -- and their top IT person might take on the title suggested in a recent letter from a reader: Chief Governance Officer.
Still others will weave the IT organization into corporate services, or global operations, or logistics, or customer service, or engineering, or even finance. The success or failure of these approaches will depend not so much on the path they take, but rather on the role they define for business technology, the priorities they set for it, the degree to which they integrate it into the business versus isolating it in a ghetto, and how vigorously they choose to focus it on what customers want and need.
Along the way, I believe we'll see a quantifiable diminishment in the number of executives holding the specific title of CIO. Those that keep the title will very likely come from companies in the top ranks within their competitive sets. For those who choose other directional approaches, it's likely that the CIO title will be replaced by others that describe and define that new or newly combined role more accurately and appropriately.
Either way, the field remains vibrant, dynamic, and in desperate need of great leaders who can generate huge business and customer value from IT. And as we all cope with the implications of reaching and going past this tipping point, here are some questions to consider:
Is your company a leader in its field? If not, do you discern a trend toward outsourcing? Very likely, that's where your company is headed.
How tangibly does your CEO embrace strategically deployed IT as a competitive advantage? If he/she views it as a cost center, then you've got radical outsourcing or CIO deconstruction in your future.
Is your CIO on the company's executive council. If not, are there other factors that point to the company's support of corporate IT?
If your IT organization is being melded into or merged with other departments, does IT come out of it with a higher profile, or as the loser?
Look at executive movement in your company over the past 10-12 years: do CIOs have growth opportunities in your company? Is it perceived as a growth path or a dead end?
I'm sure there are lots of other great questions -- please send them my way. In the meantime, understand that reaching this tipping point doesn't indicate the end of anything so much as it signals the beginning of much, much more.
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