I keep hearing how cloud computing will kill the CIO. Articles, posts, and tweets claim "the CIO is dead," done in by SaaS, IaaS, PaaS, virtualization, and the increasing commoditization of IT resources. IT budgets are being cut (again!), but IT spending overall is going up, according to both IDC and Gartner.
IT is denied budget because the business units themselves are getting the budgets. Marketing is controlling social media, not IT. Sales are controlling Salesforce.com, not IT. The business units have the budget to establish mobile solutions using cloud services, not IT. Moreover, users are increasingly opting for free or low-cost solutions (such as Google Docs, Dropbox, Skype, etc.) that are easy to use, play well with mobile devices, and meet their business requirements.
So some organizations are now wondering whether they even need a CIO, when users can just login to or download a solution, and leave the IT driving to their cloud service providers. Indeed, you could say it's another nail in the CIO's coffin every time a department chooses SaaS, every time people bring devices to work, every time teams go mobile courtesy of a smartphone store, or every time people hack the corporate network with help from an app vendor.
You could say that. But you would be wrong. Certainly there's a movement afoot in many organizations to bypass IT. And certainly the CIO's role is changing. It has to. But that doesn't mean the office is going away-at least, not universally. What is true is that those CIOs who are not adding value to their organizations are definitely at risk, because companies today are quick to eliminate positions that don't add value. And that goes double for people leading IT organizations today.
Traditional IT has to refocus, and make the refocusing visible throughout the organization. The idea that information systems are important to the business, when the rest of the business increasingly sees IT as a commodity to be bought and served from the cloud, is the catalyst that's costing CIOs their budget and eroding their influence. It's a vicious circle. And as they lose budget, they get excluded from more conversations, which loses more budget, and so on.
Here's the pivot CIOs need to make: Instead of defining and controlling IT, the CIO needs to become a trusted advisor to the business. Netflix, for example, has done away with the CIO, and instead, has a CTO. This person is looking at the technology future, and advising the business on how it can drive business opportunity with technology. There you have a strategic role that's important and visible to the business. And it can't be bought from the cloud with a Visa card.
Another example: I recently spoke with the CIO of Vail Resorts about a new service it created called EpicMix. It's a skiing app that integrates social media, mobility, and gamification to drive greater attendance, repeat visits, and customer engagement. It's wildly successful. It was born of an idea that arose from the entire executive team-and the CIO was a key part of the discussion. That's a trusted advisor that helps the organization use technology to identify and capitalize on opportunity.
The CIO who views his role as someone who defines, steers, and manages the company's IT assets is fast becoming a thing of the past. The "I" in CIO needs to be refined to mean "innovation," not "information". The Chief Innovation Officer is a key asset in strategic discussions, and the strategic technology advisor to the organization.
So, yes, you could say that the cloud and all that it brings will kill the CIO as we know it. But I prefer to say that the cloud is reinventing the CIO as much as it is reinventing software, infrastructure, platforms, and more. It is doing so with innovation that empowers consumers, employees, organizations, and new business opportunities.