How CIOs Can Stay Relevant in the Future

Cloud computing and the consumerizaton of IT have pushed the CIO role into uncharted territory. CIO magazine's publisher emeritus Gary Beach writes that it's time to seek out unique ways you can contribute.

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Tue, May 01, 2012

CIO — The conference rooms at CIO magazine are named after candies, and each contains a stash of its namesake snack. The room immediately across from my office is M&Ms, and I wandered in there one late afternoon in search of a chocolate rush. The jar was empty.

I knew where facilities hides the candy supplies, and as I opened the drawer to get my treat, I found something else of value: issues of CIO dating back to 1989. I grabbed a few to read while I ate my M&Ms.

Guess what was the main theme of the five 23-year-old issues of CIO I read that afternoon? CIOs have to become business leaders who understand technology rather than the other way around.

I found that fascinating, because the cover story of the January 2012 issue of CIO, which carried the results of the 2012 State of the CIO survey, was headlined "Business Disconnect," and detailed in depth the areas where CIOs and CEOs just don't see eye-to-eye. How come CIOs still don't get it?

Mark McDonald, a Gartner analyst who follows the CIO function, has an interesting way of describing this CIO quandary. He says, "CIOs are still doing the dishes."

Whether the CIO is in the boardroom or the kitchen, this much is certain: the business is losing patience with executives who are intent on maintaining control of IT instead of concentrating on leveraging IT to identify, or further, business goals.

Technology-as-a-service offerings and the consumerization of IT are tsunamis overtaking the CIO role, allowing workers to provision their own tech tools, taking what was once a key task for the IT department out of the hands of the CIO.

Knowing this, the CFO can now work with cloud providers and employees--not the CIO--to lower the cost of IT. Procurement departments will take over tech purchases in an increasingly open, virtualized IT infrastructure. And the legal department will iron out the service-level agreements, governance questions, risk assessments, and so on.

So what's a CIO to do? Why are you needed? What value will you bring to the corporation? (For some answers, see our May 1 cover story, "Top CIOs Predict the Future of the CIO Role.")

You better get focused on the future, or "CIO" may soon stand for "chief irrelevancy officer."

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