The current period of financial distress has again placed CIOs under the spotlight, and they are being asked the same question that their predecessors from the early 1990s were asked: “What value is our company getting for its IT investments?” In a bit more déjà vu, the alignment of IT with the needs of the business remains the number one priority of CIOs, CEOs, and BoDs (according to “IT Transformation: Creating a Strategy for Success” published in Economist, August 2008). Why is it, CEOs and BoDs are asking their CIOs, that after 20 years you still can’t solve this problem?
To top off this historical symmetry, this is a period — like the early 1990s — in which there is a fundamental shift occurring in IT that is as potentially wrenching as was that era’s move to networked systems and outsourced systems. The rise of cloud computing, software as a service, social media, and so on raises the question of who should be responsible for a corporation’s IT: itself or a third party?
All of this has put the CIO back in the hot seat and prompts us to ask, “What, if any, is the future of the CIO?”
If CIOs are to have any future, they will need to fundamentally rethink what their roles and responsibilities are. In fact, I contend that modern-era CIOs have never correctly framed what their roles and responsibilities should be, which is one of the reasons that IT-business alignment remains such a high-priority issue for CEOs and BoDs 20 years after it was first raised. I further argue that a major reason for this framing error lies in decisions that were made more than 50 years ago and continue to haunt CIOs today.
If CIOs want to survive into the future, they will need to think of their job in terms of reducing the information, control, and/or time-related risks of their organization’s customers, and wherever necessary, to remind senior management that this is their primary job as well.
Luckily for CIOs, this is likely to happen naturally. Cutter Fellow Steven Andriole persuasively argues that technology has been “commoditized, consumerized — and [has] left the building,” as he cleverly states it in “Business Technology Governance — Now and Forever: Why the Pendulum Finally Stops Swinging”. In other words, information that used to be under the purview of corporations and governments has been democratized, and as a result, consumers are now able to manage the root causes of their risks better than ever before without the need of corporations or governments. Overcoming the lack of information to make intelligent risk decisions, for instance, is much easier today because of the Internet and, more recently, the growth of social groups.
This means that corporations everywhere will need to work harder than ever to achieve Drucker’s objective of creating a customer. They will have to provide much more value-added information to customers and/or focus their efforts on reducing their customers’ control- or time-driven risks. Profit — which, remember, is the payment for mitigating a customer’s risks — is going to be increasingly difficult to generate.
Andriole also points out that the new business technology alignment opportunity is through shared or participatory governance, which entails negotiating shared risk and rewards between corporations and their customers.
CIOs would be wise to take the advice of Dr. Emmett Brown, the time-traveling scientist from the movie Back to the Future, who said, “Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it.” Beginning by studying the past and understanding how it has handcuffed the present would be a good place to start.