Monday, March 05, 2012

Reskilling for future

Every so often I read about the CIO role becoming redundant or the exigent need to adapt to the changing world. These thoughts and hypothesis are triggered by some disruptive trend in enterprise IT or some research house or professor based on their data arriving at conclusions. A lot of discussion and debate ensues with many CIO rebuttals and an equal number running scared to save their positions. Is the CIO placed in such a fragile footing that can be dislodged with such ease ?

So I started some research of my own reaching out to many peers to find out if they know anyone within their circles extending all the way to the famed six degrees of separation who was ousted due to any such tech or social trend which creates the hoopla. Spanning the globe and attempting to create correlations between technology lead trends and CIO movements, over the last year I have not yet found even one occurrence.  My conclusion was that there could be two hypothesis based on the data.

First, the CIOs took the challenges in their stride and integrated the disruptions in their own ways into their ecosystem. Depending on the industry, geography, size, market standing, profitability to name a few attributes, the CIOs adapted to the change and created equilibrium. Not too many CIOs of today are from the COBOL/Mainframe era, but many have traversed from Client-Server and 14.4 kbps modems to the current multi-screen hyper-connected mobile world.

The second hypothesis is that all the propaganda is created by attention seeking paranoid people who either want to make some money out of selling prescriptions to cure the nemesis or just hate the CIO. Umpteen attempts are made to sell their version of snake oil; and unfortunately a few end up succumbing to the FUD factor. This adds fuel to the noise until a new black swan is found and the cycle repeats itself.

Every role evolves with times; the triggers differ depending on the role. In the same period in which the CIO role evolved, the CFO role too changed from pure accounting to treasury management, compliance, and investor relations. No one discussed ad infinitum expectations or created models for change. In fact some CFOs also transitioned to becoming CEOs and so have a few CIOs in recent times. The factor by which pages have been filled with advice for the CIO to the CFO would surprise even the most outrageous guesstimate.

Darwin’s theory of evolution applies to every species; the same applies to a role or function too in the corporate world. Everyone has to adapt to change; for survival the species has to learn to embrace the new environment. Like the CFO did, the CIO has learnt to thrive in the chaos, sometimes revelling in it. Recent economic upheavals endowed the role of change agent on many CIOs. A few exceptional ones who did not live up to the challenge withered away into obscurity.

I believe that irrespective of the theme of the month, season or year, the perennial skill that will always stand good with every CXO is dexterity with business. Whether it is the internet, mobile, social media or commerce, micro to nano blogs, fads will come and go. Enterprises and business will acclimatize to some, sidestep a few, and struggle with the rest. The adaptive CIO will endure the onslaught, the unyielding will fade away into ignominy. The choice is there to make.


  1. I agree that that the traditional IT organisation has undergone a major transformation in the last decade, but the IT organisation per-se is not going away.
    Apart from helping business thru the fad, the CIO office provides strong leadership is managing the still evolving say-do ratio of the service providers.

  2. Anonymous1:51 PM

    Excellent post Arun.

    Just last week I was thinking about this exact hoopla that keeps getting created on the 'Role of the CIO' every few months. I couldn't agree more- the adaptable among us will survive and even prosper through the changes in the technology and business landscape.

    I was thinking about why does the role of the CIO get discussed so much and not other CXO roles. I think the reason lies in the technology industry around us which depends so much on hype. Every few years a technology comes around which claims to change the business/industry/society completely. Naturally, the impact on the role of the CIO is next in line for discussion.

    Over the years though, we have moved through many 'new normals' and the role for CIO has evolved- but I don't foresee the impact of the CIO role on the organisation diminshing anytime in the near future.

    1. Sandeep,

      The interesting fact is that most people discussing this are not CIOs but others who have an opinion on what the CIO should be doing. Some of my past posts have alluded to this too.