The CIO's job is changing; but it always has. Cloud and consumerization don't make the CIO role redundant -- they make it more critical than ever.
We have written extensively about how in order to thrive, IT must remain, and be perceived as, central to the business, and not merely reactive. We have covered the big trends shaping the future of IT and the enterprise -- consumerization, cloud, BYOD, and mobile. Some have taken these trends as portending the imminent demise of the CIO, sometimes at the hands of the CFO.
The CIO must be the most Mark Twain-like executive in the C-suite, because his or her demise is consistently being rumored, and those rumors are as consistently exaggerated.
In a blog post last week, veteran CIO and CTO Peter Kretzman makes a closely argued and compelling case that those advocating for the obsolescence of the CIO have it exactly backwards: consumerization and cloud highlight the centrality of the CIO role in any modern corporation, in which technology is deeply embedded in every aspect of process and product.
Kretzman contends that arguments for a diminished CIO role rest on four fundamental misunderstandings: of what IT provides, of what it means for IT to be a service organization, of the dangers of IT fragmentation, and of the true nature of the IT consumerization trend.
IT is about much more than keeping the lights on in the server room (or in Google's case, keeping the lights off). "Firms desperately need someone, at a suitably high level in the organization," Kretzman writes, "to actively shepherd the business prioritization, integration, implementation, outsourcing, and articulation of value when it comes to complex, technology-based undertakings: that's the hard part. That part will never go away."
As IT becomes more of a service organization to the rest of the company, it needs to be both a strategic value-add to the business, and the assistant that helps the company get things done reliably. On the strategic end of that balancing act, IT must be the outfit that does the hard work of figuring out "all of the nitty-gritty details that are required to ensure that the systems [business leaders] are putting in place do, in fact, collect and integrate data with other corporate resources," as IT consultant Mark Schiller puts it.
A company that allows or encourages lines of business to make their own technology decisions in the absence of expert IT guidance on best practices, perhaps as a way of avoiding costs, is a company without agility. Dell's CIO Robin Johnson makes this point explicitly: "The agility so many companies lack is elusive because it requires investment in streamlining systems... Deferring the IT investment that increases agility isn't a way to curb costs, it's a means of subsidizing inefficiency."
What consumerization is really about
Finally, the "death of the CIO" pundits who conflate BYOD with the consumerization of IT are missing the larger point of the latter trend. As Bernard Golden aptly describes it, "Consumerization of IT isn't about employees using consumer devices; it's about consumers becoming the primary users of internal IT applications." It is hardly the time to advocate for the CIO's redundancy when corporate systems and architectures are straining under the increased volume and variety of application access, as consumers from all over the world tap into what had been internal IT systems using every imaginable device.
An agile corporation needs a strong CIO and an IT department that delivers strategic value to the business. It's not about whittling costs. As Dell's Johnson puts it, "Saving money is too expensive; the agility tax is too high."