Monday, June 15, 2015

The CIO in 2020: Dead, Surviving or Thriving ?

I don’t like to make predictions, they have a habit of turning true; so I resist from making them. Having said that I do have a few weak points or triggers that get me animated and worked up when people give an opinion from the stands on how the play should be or attempt at emulating Nostradamus predicting dire future for the CIO (CIOs will survive), a role that I am passionate about; after all I spent more than two decades in that position across multiple industries, geographies, and helped my aspiring team members become CIOs in other companies.

In the recent past there were two triggers that pushed me into a corner; the first was a conference where I was invited to opine on the role of the CIO five years from today. The audience was a mix of, aspiring CIOs, providers, and an eclectic group of senior members from the industry. Collectively they wanted a view of what the future of the CIO would be. The second was an article in a respected IT publication on the death of the CIO as we know it now; Jack of all trades, master of some, operational and strategic, technical and domain expert.

The latter made some interesting points seeking to paint a scenario where CIO was not a career choice for most graduates majoring in IT or Management. Data behind the postulation was an informal show of hands in a class by a professor; in his class the result was consistent over the last few surveys. His analysis proposed that it is fallacious to expect the CIO to balance and excel in operations, technology, strategy, business and industry all at once (Don’t just survive…). While a few have been able to achieve this, majority have floundered on one or the other.

I tend to agree with the reality out there that very few CIOs have been able to balance the tightrope with uneven weights. Then like a good leader and CEO, the successful ones have hired great teams who have taken off the operational from the purview of the CIO and at the same time aid strategic thinking by contributing to the discussion and debate with collective experience bringing alternatives to the table. Leadership teams like this have been the foundation of success for CIOs as well as other CXOs in their respective domains.

Many would disagree on the “Empty Chair” phenomena predicted that the role of the CIO would be irrelevant and unnecessary as the responsibility would have been split between multiple stakeholders leaving only operational IT under the control of the technology function which is easily outsourced. What about strategic intent and IT as a differentiator with orchestrated services across the innovative and legacy systems ? How about disintermediating the Marketing function as most of the activity would have moved to the Digital world ?

Would five years hence the CIO be a broker of services ? Even today this is managed by the application team who ensures that the old and new coexist and talk to each other. Will corporate data centres or remote servers become redundant ? Consistent ubiquitous connectivity challenges coupled with newer geographic regulatory requirements and privacy laws would ensure their survival. Clouds and Social media are already weaved into technology strategy; Big Data is part of analytics where required and IoT requires integrating the technology into the enterprise framework.

Contextually I believe that there will be a shift in the engagement that CIOs have been able to create; newer generation IT Managers and MBAs will gain prominence and work with the IT team and CIO at times in the drivers’ seat. Some of the CIOs (1-4%) would continue to lead their enterprise IT led transformation and growth story; they would also be the key opinion leaders on technology and influence adoption of new disruptions. Value add would not always be linked to IT projects or interventions, they would be business leaders in their own right.

The big middle would comprise of IT Managers (50-70%) aspiring to emulate success described above while they see-saw between operations and strategy mired in organizational politics. Promise of the future lies here and this is where the trough is also likely to be seen. They will continue to be subjected to theories and predictions of their rise or demise. Wannabes (the remaining 30-50%) will struggle to gain toehold; occasional escapees will add to the middle or rise higher, and some will find alternative careers outside of IT.

Anyone wants to bet ?

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