CIOs Uncensored: Whither The Role Of The CIO? - InformationWeek
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John Soat
John Soat

CIOs Uncensored: Whither The Role Of The CIO?

As the traditional data center model withers away, what happens to the tech-oriented CIO?

When IT goes away, what will the CIO's job be? "We will provide the glue to tie together the services that the business requires," Sun Microsystems CIO Bob Worrall says.

Worrall's thesis: The evolution of the software-as-a-service model will lead to the withering away of the traditional data center and the resources to support it. As more applications and services become available over the public network, companies will have less need to develop those themselves. "The ultimate conclusion: What's the need for private networks anymore?" he says. "The IT organizations of today should be able to get out of the business of writing and supporting their own applications."

Worrall was in Moscow recently and met with 50 young entrepreneurs from Russia and Ukraine. He asked them a question as a group: How many of you, in your business plans, have incorporated the idea of building a traditional IT organization? Only two raised their hands. When he asked the rest why they ignored IT, the answer was: "Why would I want to build all that infrastructure myself when I can buy services instead?"

Sun has an obvious vested interest here. For many years, Sun has been preaching the gospel of "the network is the computer," and I've heard the utility computing pitch, the one where IT is offered as a utility like gas or electricity by service providers running big honking servers (Sun Microsystems servers, natch) from Scott McNealy himself.

But Sun and Worrall aren't the only ones predicting the evolution--at the very least--of the traditional IT data center approach. I sat in on a discussion among a group of CIOs recently, and the subject of co-location services came up. Because demand for IT services is going through the roof, while the ability for IT organizations to support that demand is slowing down, gated by physical constraints such as heat problems and space requirements, it makes the idea of turning over computing resources to third-party providers a very appealing one. It certainly was to this group.

This isn't about more outsourcing, Worrall is quick to point out. "We want to simply buy a service, not transfer our existing application to someone else to run," he says.

In preparation for this evolution, Sun has been emphasizing new areas of expertise in its IT organization, such as vendor and program management. "We've spent a lot of time building a vendor management organization with world-class skills and competencies," he says.

Does this mean a CIO won't need a background in technology anymore? "That's inevitable," says Worrall. "As technology becomes more of a, quote-unquote, commodity, the CIO [position] is less about being the technical wizard and more about the business." CIOs should concentrate on areas such as contract management, service-level agreements, legal issues, and how to manage service providers.

His own background is more in management than technology, Worrall says, and he points to Cisco's CIO, Rebecca Jacoby, who was tapped for the position in October; before that, she was VP of customer service and before that, VP of manufacturing.

"There will always be a place, even in tomorrow's model, for a few technical experts," Worrall says. But the role of the modern CIO "is less about being the purveyor of technical solutions and more about being a business partner."

Are you witnessing the withering away of the traditional data center model? Is it worrisome or energizing? Share your thoughts at our new blog, CIOs Uncensored, or contact me at [email protected] or 516-562-5326.

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