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The changing role of the CIO: Adapt or die

|Feb 18|magazine17 min read

Written by Matt Graham-Hyde

 

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There has been a lot of speculation along the theme that CIO no longer means Chief Information Officer, but instead stands for Career Is Over. Well I disagree, far from being over the career and role of the CIO is just as essential to business today as it has ever been. It is though, being transformed and reinvented by today’s major technology innovations and adoption of the digital society around us.

The reinvention rather than extinction of the CIO has begun, however, I do believe that only those that can adapt to these changes will survive.

What is at the center of this reinvention?

The hypothesis is that Social Media, Big Data & Analytics, Mobile and Cloud Computing represent an unprecedented change and challenge to both businesses and IT functions. This hypothesis is being born out in the every day lives of millions of people leading both society and business in radical new directions.

The power of these technologies and others in bioscience and 3D Printing can already be seen in the restructure of the personal health, retail, financial services, media and entertainment industries. The rapid growth and sophistication of these technologies are combining to create an innovation explosion that is increasing their impact as they interact together.

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At the root of the change for CIOs in simple terms is that cloud has changed everything by allowing the cheap highly scalable computing power, which is needed to manage the high volumes of transactions and data produced by social media and mobile in particular.

These volumes require big data analytics to understand the data in new ways to drive businesses processes, customer relationships and revenue generation, placing the CIO in the revenue accountability hot seat.

These changes are being rapidly followed by the adoption of sensor-based technology, which brings more new technology challenges across all businesses. If you are in a business that doesn’t feel disrupted or relevant to these pressures, it is only a matter of time before your industry will be impacted by these forces of change and every CIO will be right in the middle of this revolution.

This will feed the “Internet of Things,” when machine-to-machine intelligence will mean the majority of business information is created, stored, analysed and responded too with minimal intervention from people.

With the almost exponential growth of social media use with mobile devices, the CIO has to open up the corporate infrastructure in Starbucks, to staff, clients, vendors and services across the entire business. As a CIO, the reinvention of how we have the systems and capabilities to deal with this is just another area that will need a radical new approach. Can a CIO’s traditional IT best practices and architectures respond to these needs?

The changing role of the CIO

These technology shifts will disrupt every aspect of a CIO’s role. A CIO in any business, who ignores the impact that these technologies have, and ignores the fact that their role needs reinventing, is on a dangerous path.

Not everyone is going to agree with this point of view and there are still concerns over things like cloud governance, global performance, standards and the vendors themselves. This is especially true for the public based cloud computing and analytic style service businesses. Personally, I don’t share these concerns. In my experience, vendors such as Amazon and Google take these matters extremely seriously, they just have a different approach, but one that is no less rigorous or secure. Major international banks and organisations like the CIA have overcome these concerns.

Some CIOs I talk to, still believe that these technologies are purely for consumer based technology services and not for mainstream business.

There are further concerns on the cannibalisation of the IT function and its value, a concern over the potential loss of control of the organisation’s technology and long term investment plans. These concerns are best dealt with by being at the forefront of this change, as the current IT functions are being reshaped and in many areas replaced by the new cloud based technologies.

I think to start the reinvention journey, we have to have some understanding of why it is happening and to do that, I feel there is no better place to look, than at the new young technology behemoths that have been created in the last ten years.

Vast scale computing power at low usage cost

This change really got underway with the launch of Amazon Web Services in 2006. This exposed to the outside world how Amazon had reinvented the way infrastructure could be built, managed and developed in a way that did not rely on the principles of previous technology evolutions, but on architecting computing based on almost Lego-like building blocks of small low cost computers.

This is challenging the technical, financial and management models of computing that have existed for decades and allowing small businesses, as well as businesses of 100,000 people, to have the potential to access vast scale computing power, at low usage cost.

The Internet and cloud computing based revolutionary shift in Information Technology will change the technology industry completely and with it, the role of the CIO. It will regenerate the vendor landscape, improve business speed and agility, while reducing costs for all industries.

It will make access available to massively powerful computing, storage and communications to everyone with ease, and there will be apps for everything. Thus, putting a relentless pressure on the CIO and strain on traditional IT thinking and provision.

Ripping up the current rulebook will be a difficult task; career structures, vendor validation, control and governance have become unwieldy and bureaucratic.

All these rules and best practices exist for a very good reason. They exist to make the running of IT predictable, reliable and cost efficient, all of which are completely reasonable goals that won’t change, but the way we approach them will.

There is also a wide body of expertise and industry around these that contend that corporate IT cannot run without proper governance and controls. I am not proposing this isn’t the case, only that we need to rethink these practices and how they are applied, as they are not always going to help businesses respond quickly to disruption of their markets.

There are going to be new ways of managing IT outside of our current scope and the reinvented CIO will be at the forefront of these changes.

Matt Graham-Hyde is the CIO of Kantar and has over 15 years’ experience as a CIO in major international businesses. Matt is the author of “The Essential CIO” (£14.99 Panoma Press), which is available from Amazon now!