The CIO’s role is changing…….and changing fast

By | July 31, 2013

1854-1Am I alone in thinking that the CIO is a misnomer? Of all the C-suite, the CIO is perhaps the only one that finds it difficult to live up to its raison d’être. The CEO role is obvious, he or she is the most senior and important executive, the CMO is clearly head of marketing, the CFO is the guardian of the finance function, the CSO is usually the executive charged with defining and guiding the companies’ strategy (although sometimes the CSO means the Chief Security Officer) and so on. The CIO is supposed to be in charge of information. That is the ‘I’ in CIO.

But that’s a rather nebulous construct.

Information is usually seen on a continuum between data and knowledge. Data in of itself is inert and has no value unless interpreted, either by machine or human. Once it is, it becomes information. From information knowledge can be derived and business decisions can be taken. The balance sheet, the profit & loss statement, the 3 year strategic plan – these are easy to find owners for, but can one person really be in charge of all “information”? I am not sure that is credible. The CIO can create the policies and define the direction and processes that creators, owners and users of information should adhere to. But, no single person or department can control all the information – that is unless we have strayed into Airstrip One, the dystopian land of Orwell’s 1984.

However new developments in the world of IT are beginning to help change this. Big data (which I wrote about here)  is helping to raise the  profile of information value at the C-staff level and the CIO is gradually beginning to  own the ‘I’ in his or her title, even if it is in a broad sense.

But –  “STOP RIGHT THERE!” as Meat Loaf sang in Paradise By The Dashboard Light. What’s going on in the lines of business? Are they seeing the CIO as the guardian of their information?  Do they refer to the CIO for their application needs as the first port of call? Well, no, not necessarily. I am sure you have heard the term “leakage to the cloud” which refers to the situation where a line of business by-passes IT (& therefore the CIO) and procures data processing capacity and capability as a service from an external service provider, paying for it on a credit card or through an opex budget not seen or controlled by IT.

Should this worry the CIO? often the retort is yes, security could be compromised and company data that would historically have been kept on premise within the company data center is now being stored somewhere in the cloud and it just feels wrong. Is this just the IT department feeling emasculated, sensing a lack of control? Well the counter arguments are that actually the data is proven to be safer in a well respected and highly regulated service provider than in the companies own data center where controls are not so vigorous, and actually the service providers are using advanced storage technology to store data with true secure multi-tenant architectures, 100% service level agreements and so on (FlexPod Datacenter running Clustered Data ONTAP might be one great example).

But what caught my eye this week was a report from IDC looking at Business Transformation. In it they stated that

“Companies will initiate an average of 40 new IT projects in 2013 (with or without IT)”.

What intrigued me was not that number of new projects – that seems relatively tame, given some of our enterprise clients have over a thousand IT personnel (accepting however that it is an average figure), no, what I thought arresting was what was in the parentheses. It implies that the number of IT projects in which IT are not involved is most likely considerable. They proffered further data, albeit from a relatively small sample of almost 60 companies, that IT will lead/manage only 42% of these new projects. 50% will be a joint collaboration between IT and the LOB (and of these two thirds being led by IT and one third by the LOB), whilst the balance will be led solely and exclusively by the LOB. They conclude that by 2016 80% of all IT projects will have LOB involvement with those LOBs leading rather than being reviewers. Wow. Is power moving inexorably from the IT department and into the Line of Business??

And what does this mean for the CIO? Well firstly it means a shift from control to collaboration. The CIO needs to work with the LOB to define prioritization of projects. Secondly it means the CIO and by implication his or her senior staff, need to understand the line of business and what it is trying to achieve. In fact the IT executive needs to be a core part of the business planning and the business team. Without this close working relationship and the exposure to the business, the IT department cannot hope to understand how IT can help further the aims of the LOB. But most crucially they can be part of the decision process about which services are procured outside the organisation and which remain on premise. It means the CIO can understand what has potential to leak to the cloud and what can be done to keep the information that is processed in the cloud, secure and confidential.

It does not mean putting the kibosh on cloud services, in fact rather the contrary. It means that the CIO can become part of the decision process about what gets moved and what does not, which work loads are suitable and which really have to remain on-premise and in the company data center. This is how the CIO manages his or her transition from being the builder and operator of computing resources to that of a service broker.

Clearly the role of the CIO is going through some flux but I think it is all positive. The CIO is becoming seen as a business exec first and technician second. They will never own all the information in an organisation, nor should they. But they can certainly add massive value in orchestrating where that information is stored, processed and then turned into gold to further the business interests.

If you’ve had enough of reading from me – take a look at this article from the CIO symposium a few months back on the same theme or watch our CIO Cynthia Stoddard talking at VMWorld 2012 about how what her role at NetApp means and how it has changed.

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