Friday, May 13, 2011

The CIO’s New Role for a New Decade

It’s amazing what the aftermath of a recession can do for the position of chief information officer.

When we emerged from the downturn of the early ‘90s, we saw the rise of the CIO as the manager of the corporate IT function. The problem was that the CIO was seen more as a glorified technical expert. IT was a function that needed to be managed while it kept the networks running.

Fast-forward a few years. The Internet became a critical part of every business strategy, and after the recession of 2001 and 2002, more businesses were viewing IT as a strategic asset that needed a leader rather than a manager. So, CIOs began reporting to CEOs, business analysts talked about the need for “strategic alignment” between IT and the rest of the business, and CIOs were tasked with answering questions about “how IT can help us deliver on our strategic goals.”

Today, of course, we’re coming out of the Great Recession. I can say that without hesitation because I have yet to find a survey or research report that says IT spending is not going up. But, just like the aftermaths of the two previous economic downturns, there are new issues on the CIO’s plate, namely:

  • Whether cloud computing can help IT and save the company money;
  • What to do about the use of mobile devices throughout the workplace;
  • How to enhance the user experience through mobile technology as a way to boost revenue;
  • How to manage the risks in such strategic undertakings as cloud computing and offshore outsourcing; and
  • Watching out for new technologies that can boost revenue and provide competitive advantage.
It’s that last bullet point that can define the CIO’s role for this decade. The IT leader who can see the potential in a new technology, effectively link that with a strategic business goal, and line up the right resources to execute that goal will be the most valued among his peers. Chris Curran addressed this “power of prediction” in a recent article on, linking the power of today’s technology as an aide for forward-thinking IT leaders.

“We now have powerful tools for predicting the future, and the data, technology and people who know how to use those tools to generate actionable information and reliable forecasts,” he wrote. “Digitally enabled conversations, movements tracked by a global positioning system (GPS), and online communications can be valuable (if sometimes controversial) sources of information for analysis, baselines and comparisons. It seems like every company I talk to lately is interested in creating an information advantage. I think they're on the right track.”

If he’s right, the role of the CIO will have completed its 180-degree turn from simply a manager of an ancillary function to a key strategic partner.

What do you think? Are more CIOs now seen as key players in the executive suite? And are they earning that status? Share your thoughts in a comment below.

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