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CIO Unplugged 4/26/17

April 26, 2017 Ed Marx 6 Comments

The views and opinions expressed are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

The Disintermediation of the CIO

The role of the CIO has reached its zenith. Over the next several years, we will see the title deconstruct. Just as the baby boomers held on to “Data Processing Director” concepts as long as they could, a few of us diehard GenXers will grasp on to the CIO title until our retirement. Millenials and Gen Z will jump on the chance to blaze new trails and transform our profession to reflect the rapidly changing world we live in. There will be less concern with title and more focus on the depth of impact on business and on remaining relevant.

The transition began the day the CIO title was adopted. Moore’s Law became the norm and change a constant. As a profession, we metamorphosized through a variety of stages ranging from pure technical manager to today’s C-level executive. The changes ahead are not for lack of skill or talent, but are at best reflective — at worst reactive — to cultural and technological changes.

What makes this transition more profound is that the majority of CIOs never made it to the C-suite. They allowed themselves to get stuck someplace in between. The opportunity for them to close the gap is gone..

Empowered internal and external consumers and the ubiquitous nature of technology are key drivers for the change. We are seeing the democratization of data, information, and knowledge. CIOs can no longer control technology proliferation nor cap or meter its utilization. Service desks are becoming a relic of the past. Millennials grew up in a self-service age and have expectation of the same. The average consumer has 30+ applications on their smartphone and few if any come with call center support. Think cloud, blockchain, mobile, big data, consumerization, and social supported by disruptors. There is diminishing need for traditional IT.

Granted, there will always be a need for technical expertise. IT will revert back to pure technical play. IT divisions will become cost centers again and will fade into the background. IT will be focused on providing safe networks and connections and can be summed up as “interoperability and security.” Staff size and budgets will shrink and investment cut by 50 percent or more. Data centers will go lights-out and most companies will either convert the space for document storage or sell them outright. The data center is a financial albatross ripe for partnering. “Shadow IT” will become partners, not adversaries. It is not the old centralization versus decentralization, but pure and simple disintermediation.

So where are today’s CIOs headed? We are already seeing some directional signs. I was contacted twice this year by recruiters who were trolling for chief digital officers (CDO). In both cases, the existing CIOs were bypassed and would report to the CDO. While I think CDO has legs and will stick, it is not the final destination, but perhaps an intermediate layover. Just as Uber disrupted transformation, IT is being disrupted. Uber is an intermediate step for the next wave in transportation. We are beginning to see self-driving vehicles and the proliferation of drones for transport.

I don’t have a savvy prediction on how you spell the CIO title five years from now. What I am confident in is that we need to change and adapt or report to those that do. We must evolve and continuously retool ourselves and focus heavily on innovation, entrepreneurship, and value creation. We must be able to see the future and collaborate with partners, developing strategic solutions grounded in the practical realities of taking the best care of our patients. We must be the one trusted advisor who can see across the business enterprise and facilitate change at 10 times the speed of Moore’s Law.

Finally, we can’t forget that our primary talent must remain focused on being experts in the people business. When consultants say people, process, and technology, it is really people (85 percent), process (10 percent), and technology (5 percent). This is how we add value and remain relevant. Retool, yet never forget that we are in the people business and always keep the patient in the center of all we do. This is not the age of the stodgy hotel; this is the age of AirBnB.

If we don’t shape the future, others will change it for us and leave us behind.


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Currently there are "6 comments" on this Article:

  1. Ed – Great post, you raise a bunch of topics CIOs and organizations should be thinking about.

    Darren, GenX CIO grasping onto a bunch of historical pillars, but hopefully reaching out to a few new ones.

  2. I agree with you whole heartedly. Although it may take longer than 5 years, it will happen. If you don’t morph you will be left behind. The IT stuff will soon be outsourced to the cloud and service providers (who will do a better job and do it cheaper. A C-lever exec is all about leadership. How will you help your organization innovate, improve and advance?

  3. In theory, what Ed is saying is true. However, in reality, I cannot see this working. About every three months I am drawn in to yet another project to fix a system that was purchased by a department and not run through IT so that it fits into our current infrastructure. It doesn’t do what they want because it is a stand-alone system and what they really need is for it to be a specialized part of the whole.

    Marketers for crappy products are just too good at selling systems that don’t quite do what the buyer needs, but they do not realize it until after they have purchased it. Someone needs to be the overall visionary and leader for IT in a company/organization and make sure that new technology fits into the whole picture. Departments and end-users cannot do that by themselves.

    People, in general, just do not understand technology enough to allow them free reign to pick whatever they want. Someone who excels at business is usually horrible at picking a technology solution. Primarily because they specialize in business, not technology. Or healthcare. etc, etc, etc.

    After thinking about it, Uber is actually a great example of what you are talking about. I live 8 miles from work. It would cost around $26 for me to use Uber to get to work. Over $1000 a month to replace my car, for which my payment is $165 and around $50 in gas a month (if I use if just for going to and from work). The 3rd party IT vendors which your users would select if they could get around a CIO would charge rates like these also.

  4. The CIO title and role will change because everything eventually changes or dies. This is not news.
    There will continue to be an emphasis on titles. Look at Linkedin and see the silly titles people give themselves these days. I suspect title inflation is somehow an outgrowth of grade inflation in school. And please dear God, stop using millennials as the reason, excuse, whatever, for all the changes happening in IT.

  5. While I agree that roles are changing below and parallel to the CIO, I also think that someone still needs to be there to provide direction, leadership and generally ‘herd the cats’. Without a CIO, who is supposed to make the standards that enable support of all these diverse systems? Sure, things are changing; that’s why I got into IT to begin with. But that is nothing new.

  6. Thoughtful and provocative post. While I agree with many of your thoughts, I would suggest that the title nor the role will be going away. Yes, we need to adapt the role to the changing world, but that is nothing new. Just as the title CEO has stuck though the role has dramatically changed, I would suggest that the title of CIO will stick around while we drive automation and innovation through the adoption of new technology. And yes, we need to embrace digital and see where we can take it. But would a CDO have the technical chops we CIOs bring to the table?

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