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Advice to CIOs: Don’t Choke On the Alphabet Soup

Mar 18, 2013

Advice to CIOs: Don’t Choke On the Alphabet Soup

CIOs are having an identity crisis.

The CIO’s turf is being cut into smaller and smaller pieces as organizations create chief digital officers, chief process officers, chief marketing officers, chief technology officers, and as CMOs and CFOs take more control over CIO budgets.

What’s a CIO to do?

It’s not that CIOs don’t sense their diminishing role. A discussion in the CIO Network section of LinkedIn recently, entitled “Many CIOs are in supporting roles and they lack the power and control to influence executive decision-making...Any thoughts?,” drew 190 responses.

Experts say CIOs should resist the impulse to be pigeonholed into a sort of wanna-be CFO (not that there’s anything wrong with that) focused primarily on cost and instead should focus on being a CIO -- but with the “I” in this case standing for “innovation.”

“[CIOs] are on a largely evolutionary technology road map, and frequently eschew the pursuit of breakthroughs that will give their companies major advantage,” writes Dion Hinchcliffe for ZDNet. “Why? Because their traditional role of developing infrastructure and keeping it operating (and manageable and secure) tends to make them risk adverse and focused on business continuity.” The problem with that, he continues, is that CIOs have been slow to adopt new technology, leading other more nimble parts of the organization to do an end run around them with “rogue IT” technologies such as BYOD, just as we saw with PCs in the 1980s. “The CMO thus has both the mandate and the urgent requirement to enable digital engagement in a way that no other group does, and the ready capability to do it without much help from IT,” he writes.

In short, writes Bernard Golden in CIO, CMOs think in terms of ROI while CIOs think in terms of TCO – a profoundly different way of looking at the world.

Of course, like everything else these days, it’s all the fault of big data, because marketing people want to be able to use it to drive marketing efforts, and they want to ensure they have the computing power to do it, without having to go through a CIO organization, writes Gil Press in Forbes.

In fact, predicted Gartner, by 2017, CMOs are expected to be spending more on IT than CIOs do. IDC predicted that by 2016, CMOs will control 40% of the IT budget.

What makes this bad? Because money is everything. “If you're a CIO who controls less of the overall budget, you have less clout within and outside the company,” writes Golden.

What CIOs need to avoid, Hinchliffe writes, is letting the I standing for “infrastructure,” and abrogating any role in innovation in the company at all.

Instead of being the person who keeps the lights on, writes Amol Vidwans, Head - Information Technology for MARG, in Dynamic CIO, CIOs should take advantage of their ability to manage the flow of information inside and outside an organization and how technology fits and aligns with business strategy.

 “The possibility is there for the CIO role to fade into irrelevance, with IT becoming a utility that's managed as a distributed function across the business,” agrees Thor Olavsrud  in Computerworld. “But the opportunity is also there for the CIO to become the catalyst for transforming the business, a trusted adviser that helps CEOs navigate the digital business environment.”

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