Survivor: CIO Edition

I keep hearing how cloud computing will kill the CIO. Articles, posts, and tweets claim “the CIO is dead,” done in by SaaS, IaaS, PaaS, virtualization, and the increasing commoditization of IT resources. IT budgets are being cut (again!), but IT spending overall is going up, according to both IDC and Gartner.


IT is denied budget because the business units themselves are getting the budgets. Marketing is controlling social media, not IT. Sales are controlling Salesforce.com, not IT. The business units have the budget to establish mobile solutions using cloud services, not IT. Moreover, users are increasingly opting for free or low-cost solutions (such as Google Docs, Dropbox, Skype, etc.) that are easy to use, play well with mobile devices, and meet their business requirements.


So some organizations are now wondering whether they even need a CIO, when users can just login to or download a solution, and leave the IT driving to their cloud service providers. Indeed, you could say it’s another nail in the CIO’s coffin every time a department chooses SaaS, every time people bring devices to work, every time teams go mobile courtesy of a smartphone store, or every time people hack the corporate network with help from an app vendor.


You could say that. But you would be wrong. Certainly there’s a movement afoot in many organizations to bypass IT. And certainly the CIO’s role is changing. It has to. But that doesn’t mean the office is going away-at least, not universally. What is true is that those CIOs who are not adding value to their organizations are definitely at risk, because companies today are quick to eliminate positions that don’t add value. And that goes double for people leading IT organizations today.


Traditional IT has to refocus, and make the refocusing visible throughout the organization. The idea that information systems are important to the business, when the rest of the business increasingly sees IT as a commodity to be bought and served from the cloud, is the catalyst that’s costing CIOs their budget and eroding their influence. It’s a vicious circle. And as they lose budget, they get excluded from more conversations, which loses more budget, and so on.


Here’s the pivot CIOs need to make: Instead of defining and controlling IT, the CIO needs to become a trusted advisor to the business. Netflix, for example, has done away with the CIO, and instead, has a CTO. This person is looking at the technology future, and advising the business on how it can drive business opportunity with technology. There you have a strategic role that’s important and visible to the business. And it can’t be bought from the cloud with a Visa card. 


Another example: I recently spoke with the CIO of Vail Resorts about a new service it created called EpicMix. It’s a skiing app that integrates social media, mobility, and gamification to drive greater attendance, repeat visits, and customer engagement. It’s wildly successful. It was born of an idea that arose from the entire executive team-and the CIO was a key part of the discussion. That’s a trusted advisor that helps the organization use technology to identify and capitalize on opportunity.


The CIO who views his role as someone who defines, steers, and manages the company’s IT assets is fast becoming a thing of the past. The “I” in CIO needs to be refined to mean “innovation,” not “information”. The Chief Innovation Officer is a key asset in strategic discussions, and the strategic technology advisor to the organization.


So, yes, you could say that the cloud and all that it brings will kill the CIO as we know it. But I prefer to say that the cloud is reinventing the CIO as much as it is reinventing software, infrastructure, platforms, and more. It is doing so with innovation that empowers consumers, employees, organizations, and new business opportunities.

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Andi Mann

Andi Mann is vice president of Strategic Solutions at CA Technologies. With over 20 years’ experience across four continents, Andi has deep expertise of enterprise software on cloud, mainframe, midrange, server and desktop systems. Andi has worked within IT departments for governments and corporations, from small businesses to global multi-nationals; with several large enterprise software vendors; and as a leading industry analyst advising enterprises, governments, and IT vendors – from startups to the worlds’ largest companies. He has been widely published including in the New York Times, USA Today, CIO, ComputerWorld, InformationWeek, TechTarget, and more. He has presented around the world on virtualization, cloud, automation, and IT management, at events such as Gartner ITxpo, VMworld, CA World, Interop, Cloud Computing Expo, SAPPHIRE, Citrix Synergy, Cloud Slam, and others. Andi is a co-author of the popular handbook, ‘Visible Ops – Private Cloud’; he blogs at ‘Andi Mann – Übergeek’ (http://pleasediscuss.com/andimann), and tweets as @AndiMann.

This article has 8 comments

  1. Great post, where traditional IT are old school 70% maintenance 30% change, the new chief innovation officer will have to reverse those numbers.

    I don’t think CIO’s will make that transition easily, so it will be the death of the CIO but they will be replaced by chief innovation officers and they won’t always come from IT.

  2. Great post, where traditional IT are old school 70% maintenance 30% change, the new chief innovation officer will have to reverse those numbers.

    I don’t think CIO’s will make that transition easily, so it will be the death of the CIO but they will be replaced by chief innovation officers and they won’t always come from IT.

  3. Thanks Andy, appreciate the comment. This is a really interesting idea, and one that has some precedence in a number of companies.

    There is also the idea that the traditional CIO role stays as it is – and remains aligned with the ‘lights-on’ activity of the legacy data center (perhaps downgraded as VP of Ops or similar) – while the new technology is managed by a Chief Innovation Officer or a Chief Digital Officer.

    This is more or less where Netflix have ended up today. More recently, Starbucks replaced outgoing CIO Stephen Gillette (off to Best Buy) with both a new CIO *and* a new CDO (see -http://news.starbucks.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=631)

    In any case, there has to be change. No one has a Chief Buggy Whip Manager anymore, do they? :)

    Andi Mann
    CA Technologies,

  4. Great post, the traditional IT role is dead and the IT Executives who fail to adapt will become extinct regardless if you call them CIO, CTO, Head of IT or IT Director. Cloud, Mobility and the Consumerization of IT has accelerated the transformation and it is very welcome from my perspective.

  5. Thanks for the comment Ben.

    Yes, I think the moniker of ‘IT’ is going to become problematic for the new breed of technology leader. Which is fitting, and we’ve been through this before (remember ‘MIS’, and even earlier, ‘DP’?).

    But you’re right. While I would say that these traditional titles may indicate a traditional IT leader, ultimately the title itself is not the issue. Without advancing to a ‘new breed’ of technology leadership – in title *and* in practice – that traditional role will be under realistic and imminent threat.

    Andi Mann, CA Technologies.

  6. Enjoyed the post (bears out some of the comments/observations you mentioned in your podcast with Douglas Brown) and agree that along with the changes in technology and delivery mechanisms there also needs to be changes in the way IT is communicated/innovated/managed/procured/governed etc so the IT department – IT role is going to have to change – the people have to change or the people have to change. So where do we start? Where is the biggest driver coming from?

  7. Hi Andi. Your #Cloudviews stream inspired the follow here. The changing role of internal “tech” leadership is by far the hottest enquiry topic for us right now. Not one of our clients believes they will eliminate their internal team; most of their interest is now focused on how should KPIs change to create and deliver on the right expectations. We are also seeing much more interconnect with finance and compliance, with the tech team as advisors on the art of the possible. Thanks for your thoughts – always good to have a balanced, nuanced perspective!

  8. Thanks Puni, I appreciate you reading the CloudViews stream and for posting here.

    I agree too – some roles may change, a few will go away, but most orgs will still need their tech teams. And business and IT will only change if their KPIs change too! It is great to hear about closer alignment too – we have been talking about it for a long time, it is still very valid today.

    Thanks for the post,
    Andi.

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