The CIO function: obsolete or vital? CIOs have the opportunity to become the vital link in their company between the onrush of new technologies and the crushing need for new business strategies. On the other hand, the CIO risks being seen as a stumbling block restricting their company's growth and throttling opportunity. The opposite extremes for the CIO function are that stark and there is very little room in the middle.
The best business strategy for CIOs is to redesign and restructure their organization from centralized tech to a company-wide service bureau. This is counter to past history in business (and politics) where you increased your influence by increasing your power. A bigger budget, more direct reports, and participation in board room level committees was the mark of success. The consumerization of business technology, the mobile workforce, and business-capable applications available to all employees via the Web is profoundly changing business technology. CIOs need to adapt to that change or risk being seen as a costly department without a clear mandate.
The basic relationship of technology and business is undergoing fundamental change. As the research firm Constellation Research points out: The IT budget may be going down for many companies, but technology spending is going up within those companies. What changed?
What changed is the development of democratic (please notice the small d) technology accessible to all employees with an Internet connection and a credit card. Sometimes you don't even need the credit card. Want to share a document? Your biggest problem is picking which service: Google Docs, Skydrive, Dropbox, or Box.net. Conference calling, CRM, social networks and app stores makes the modern corporation a wide open--and frankly--somewhat anarchy driven business. Constellation refers to this as CoIT, the consumerization of IT that empowers line of business executives to make technology decisions.
[ IT departments are dealing with changes on a lot of fronts. Read The Rise Of Shadow IT. ]
R "Ray" Wang, the CEO of Constellation Research sees the emerging role of the CIO as providing centralized coordination in an increasingly decentralized business environment.
"While a lot of people are poo-pooing the role of the CIO, there is an awful lot of technology entering businesses going unsupported with no plan. Right now a lot of companies are entering BYOD hell," said Wang.
"There is enormous opportunity and some challenges," said Michael Skaff when asked about the changing role of the CIO. Skaff is someone who knows those opportunities and challenges from the inside. Currently the CIO at San Francisco startup LesConcierges, Skaff was previously the CIO for the San Francisco Symphony and has a solid resume of technology and business skills.
"In many ways the CIO is evolving into the COO for delivering technology enabled services," said Skaff.
In the middle of the budget and empowerment changes roiling the corporation sits the CIO ,having grown up in his or her role as the translator between technology acquisition and business strategy. But with technology acquisition happening in business groups and technologically hip employees unwilling to be held to long tech development and deployment cycles, the traditional CIO role needs to change.
Delaying the change will only make the CIOs role more tenuous. Delays in technology implementation encourage business strategists to grumble about being technologically outpaced by the competition. Delays won't slow the CFO in the process of distributing that sacrosanct technology budget among all sorts of new departments: the CMO gets a chunk, the HR department gets a chunk, and the gang in the warehouse wants to get on the "everything tagged and tracked" bandwagon. Even the Coke machine wants to talk to other Coke machines.