As the IT Role Changes, So Does the CIO

Are CIOs an endangered species?

Paranoia has long been part of the CIO job description. Of course, to quote an old saw, even paranoids have enemies.

Today, the enemy is IT itself. More specifically, it’s the way IT is changing.

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Let the Business Drive IT Strategy

IT's Third Epoch...and Running IT at Google

Not so long ago, CIOs designed, bought, implemented and controlled IT. Today, as IT permeates every level of the enterprise, as the IT sophistication of users rises, the idea that any one person can control it is becoming increasingly untenable. And that’s bound to make CIOs more paranoid than ever.

For example, in a survey published last month, more than 600 U.K. IT leaders said their role is becoming less strategic; more than half thought they’d be out of a job within two years. The survey also found that half of their CFOs viewed IT as a support function and as such didn’t believe the CIO needed to occupy a seat on the board.

Well, CFOs have never liked CIOs (CFOs don’t really like anyone) so let’s not worry about them. Let’s worry instead about a recent survey by The Conference Board of 769 CEOs worldwide who said that their top challenge was getting “excellence of execution” and their third greatest concern was “keeping consistent execution of strategy by top management.”

So how’s your execution? It’s hard to execute, isn’t it, when every other employee is downloading his or her own apps off the Web. And it’s hard to enforce a consistent strategy, isn’t it, when business leaders are developing their own based on software-as-a-service offerings that beat your enterprise IT hollow.

So what’s the answer?

Well, everyone is still working on that. In “Let the Business Drive IT Strategy,” Chris Potts, director of an IT strategy consultancy, suggests that “the CIO’s challenge is to capture and channel the energy of individuals’ personal strategies for exploiting IT.” That is, be a business facilitator.

In “IT's Third Epoch...and Running IT at Google,” Google CIO Douglas Merrill basically says that CIOs should play to their technology strength, urging them to have faith in Moore’s Law and “throw off the shackles of today’s perspective and build the world that we want to live in.”

In other words, the answer is yet to be determined. But the CIO role isn’t going away. The job is just getting harder to define, harder to do. So what else is new?

Editor David Rosenbaum can be reached at drosenbaum@cio.com.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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