Unmasking the new CIO

Published on the 06/06/2014 | Written by Owen McCall

CIO change

Owen McCall reflects on the characteristics of a successful CIO in today’s technologically saturated enterprises – and questions whether these have changed since the inception of the role...

For as long as I’ve been in the IT industry (which is a disturbingly long time) commentators have been lauding the virtues of the emerging ‘new CIO’. While the details change, the underlying theme remains constant; technology is changing rapidly and with these changes the role of the CIO must change as well. Today’s version of this is what IDC have called the third platform and is built on the convergence of mobile devices, social technologies, cloud services and big data. This ’new platform’ will fundamentally change what technology services are available to organisations and users, such as enterprise-wide systems on smartphones, as well as how and by whom they are provided. Most people agree that these changes will in time tip the balance of power from the centralised IT team, led by the CIO, to a market where users are free from the tyranny of the centralised IT group for the first time. The result has been a call for a new type of CIO as the current version will not be relevant in this new world.

But as the French critic and journalist Jean- Baptiste Alphonse Karr said: “The more things change, the more they stay the same”. So, do we really need a new type of CIO? Well, that depends on how you define the CIO’s role. I see two typical characterisations in answering this question:

Option 1: CIO as IT leader

The CIO is the functional leader of IT. Their primary role is to manage the organisation’s technology investments and ensure those investments support the organisation’s strategy. As technologies change then so does the role of the CIO and, as we know, technology is constantly changing.

If this is your view of the CIO role then yes, a lot is going to change as organisations begin to understand and transition to the third platform. Under this scenario the CIO will need to retrain themselves and their team to understand the new environment. These changes are not just about the new technologies but also about new styles of relationships, new expectations for service levels and new models for delivery to name just a few.

Option 2: CIO as strategy enabler
The CIO is an executive and leader within the organisation who has particular skills in delivering value through the strategic use of technology. Here while technologies come and go the focus of the CIO remains constant, determining how to use the technologies to deliver value to the organisation. If this is your view then nothing changes. That said, these are very exciting and important times, the transformational changes that we are seeing in technology mean that there are many new opportunities to be investigated and capitalised on. In this environment, the role of the CIO will be even more critical as organisations wade through the competitive implications of technology changes and there are a number of these. By leveraging social, mobile, cloud and big data technology the CIO will become central to every relationship an organisation has rather than simply being a catalyst for internal efficiency. A CIO focused on unlocking this value will be vital to an organisation’s future success.

So, is there a need for a new CIO? I would argue no. The role of the CIO has and always will be unlocking the value of technology. Of course if this isn’t your focus, watch out. Unless you can make the transition, your world is about to end.

ABOUT OWEN McCALL//writer_Owen_McCall

Owen McCall is the founder of Viewfield Consulting a specialist IT strategy and leadership consulting firm. He was CIO of The Warehouse for seven and a half years.

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