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BLOG: The end of the CIO as we know it -- and IT feels fine

Galen Gruman | Oct. 14, 2013
Fifteen years after it became a top-level job, the CIO notion no longer makes sense in the emerging post-IT world

The rise of consumerization — meaning a broad swath of technology-literate employees who know their subject matter very well — has also reduced the need for IT to get involved in many day-to-day operations. The training wheels are coming off, and the notion of IT-as-coach is less necessary.

I see a post-PC equivalent movement happening to IT overall, and thus to the CIO. Call it "post-IT." Just as post-PC isn't the end of the PC, post-IT is not the end of IT. But something different is being formed, and straight extensions of the past IT model — the broad but specialized operational department — should not be counted on.

How the CIO role should evolve
As I said, the CIO job has only a 15-year history, and I believe it is a transitional executive role. Just as companies no longer have an electricity department, they may no longer need an IT department. So what is a CIO good for, if anything? The answer depends on what the company needs, and that's the key to the future of the CIO.

In most cases, forget about being equal to the CFO, sales chief, or COO in the CEO's eyes. Look instead to the key supporting roles that have less stature but are critical to the company: HR, legal, risk, and strategy. When done well, these roles mix strategic leadership with policy-oriented management and only the minimally necessary amount of operations. HR, for example, doesn't manage employees, but it helps managers do it better through policies, counseling, and crisis management. The risk officer doesn't manage security directly, but helps the company assess risks, prioritize prevention and remediation, and manage crises.

In many organizations, the CIO role should evolve to a similar mix, using its broad oversight to identify areas of innovation within and across individual departments, as well as establish standards for technical integration and information exchange — not just at bits level but at a semantic level. What we tend to think of IT — purchasing, specifying, managing the data center, networks, support, enterprise applications, and (decreasingly) users' devices — should be spun out into a facilities-like department. In other words, forget being an equal to the CFO, sales chief, or COO; instead, be one of the key "lubricating" leaders.

Perhaps this operational IT — the reborn MIS department — reports to whatever the CIO is renamed, or perhaps it stays separate so that the CIO isn't pulled into operational issues constantly. Some organizations separate the chief risk officer from the security operations for the same reason, while others combine them — that's a decision for each company to make. The same goes for where MIS belongs.


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