by Adam Hartung

CIOs: Will You Be Relevant in 2017?

Apr 30, 20123 mins

Columnist Adam Hartung says CIOs are in danger of becoming irrelevant if they focus on old technologies and practices. He advises that you forget what worked in the past and focus on technologies that will delight employees and customers in the future.

When computing costs dropped like a proverbial stone after 1970, it created a remarkable opportunity for businesses to improve operations and grow. Suddenly, “the guys in the basement” became the IT department, and the data center manager became a very powerful CIO. This new role wielded a large budget and incredible control as companies invested heavily in enterprise applications, immense data repositories and thousands of PCs.

That was then. This is now.

Cheap smartphones, tablets and apps mean users are buying their own devices and aren’t happy with company-supplied PCs, software or BlackBerrys. Meanwhile, software-as-a-service applications let users bypass enterprise systems for cheap applications they can pay for out of their own budgets — and prefer to use.

Now connecting with suppliers, customers and even fellow employees can often be made faster, easier and more effective by using personal texting, or social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, rather than corporate email. Employees no longer worry about having the corporate standard set of common hardware and software. Increasingly, users avoid systems from the IT shop because they have clunky interfaces and slow down their work.

In case you haven’t noticed, the CIO and IT departments are becoming irrelevant to many in the company. Users don’t understand why IT moves so slowly, costs so much and makes life so difficult. They are ready to jettison the CIO in favor of the local department doing its own thing.

Relevancy requires CIOs to take an approach that’s very different from what worked from 1975 to 2005. Trying to defend and extend what used to work is the path to ruin, because users will simply revolt. And today they’ll often have the support of their EVPs and the CEO — who will be holding their own iPhones and iPads. Doing things the way they were always done — often with a healthy dose of control — will prove fatal.

Five years from now, in 2017, being relevant will require adding value. And that no longer means negotiating a great PC contract with Dell, or a data center outsourcing agreement in India. It means the following:

Understand what users want — what they really, really, really want — which is often far beyond what they say they want. Help them define what would be a beautiful, easy, powerful, ultra-competitive success for them 12 months from now.

Be an expert in new tools (such as smartphones, tablets, social media, location services). Users should never know more than you do. Being good at old technologies is irrelevant. Waiting on new versions of old technology is irrelevant.

Implement new technologies. Don’t banish them because you don’t understand them, or they violate old rules. That invites workarounds.

Create teams that go beyond what’s current and understand what today’s new technologies will offer in 2017. Forget about predicting enterprise applications and Windows upgrades — users don’t care! Predict, and implement, new technologies that will deliver the capabilities users want.

Develop, and popularize, your vision of the company and how it will operate in 2020. Show how the CIO in an information economy is invaluable, and can help users do more than they imagined on their own — faster and better.

Leadership is delivering the future before people see it coming. Do that, or risk being irrelevant.

Adam Hartung is a consultant specializing in innovation and the author of the book Create Marketplace Disruption. Contact him at