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The changing CIO role: Time to recognize, adapt to emerging cloud-centered IT landscape

Cloud IconThe emerging cloud-centered IT landscape has many CIOs wondering what their roles will look like in the near future. The confluence of major forces for change - including cloud migration, outsourcing, ubiquitous computing and IT-enabled corporate strategy - has led to this reflection and created uncertainty about the next step in the evolving IT leader role.

 

CIOs are resilient and evolutionary forces in technology are nothing new. In fact, the role of the CIO has been in continual formation, evolving from "information systems manager" in the late 1970s and changing in each era of computing - Mainframe, Distributed Computing, Web and now Post-PC. At each step, an IT leader assumed new responsibilities and titles. However, despite the changes spanning these eras, my sense is that, for the most part, the CIO role was fairly consistent across companies and industries: Whatever IT a company had, the CIO or VP of IT ran it.

 

Based on numerous encounters and conversations I have been involved in over the past couple years, it's clear that there are huge variations in the current responsibilities assigned to CIOs. IT leaders are operating at varying levels of the organization, with differing, frequently changing missions, and I'm seeing increasingly divergent definitions for the role across companies. These are ominous conditions that I think could impact the CIO in existential ways. Yes, I think the entire role of CIO could become a casualty due to a general lack of consensus as to what the title actually means.

 

And while that viewpoint may seem extreme, think about it: At many large companies, non-IT executives are being empowered to make their own IT decisions and many business units are selecting their own IT solutions, merging the front and back offices in an IT-enabled business strategy. As executives get more comfortable with IT ownership, as consumerization of corporate IT gets more prevalent, and as business IT gets less and less asset-centric, IT decision making will continue to decentralize. This distribution of IT functions across the executive ranks is impacting the role and even the lifespan of the CIO now.

 

But fear not! The CIO role can endure and the road to extinction can be avoided. CIOs need to recognize that radical changes are beginning to permeate their industries and their companies. The ways people communicate, learn, work, play, organize, govern and conduct commerce are being impacted by ubiquitous computing. These changes are serving as a catalyst for exploring new opportunities and creating an opening for forward-looking IT visionaries. Call it the silver lining, if you will. CIOs cannot ignore the real opportunity they have to spearhead the introduction of entirely new business models and applications based on ubiquitous computing while radically changing the cost structures underneath their legacy systems.

 

I encourage CIOs to not only understand how ubiquitous computing will change their industry, but to be vocal about how to move the business to respond to new opportunities. CIOs have huge credibility within their businesses in matters of technology and often see opportunities that others miss. Those who can give voice to these ideas will thrive regardless of their title.

 

Finally, I wanted to note that I shared additional thoughts on the CIO role with Data Center Knowledge earlier this month. To read that content, click here.

 

Bryan Doerr is chief technology officer at Savvis, a CenturyLink company.

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