For most of the last decade, there has been a steady drumbeat of predictions about the demise of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). Whether it was the rise of the cloud, the emergence of the Chief Digital Officer or the promise of artificial intelligence, there has been a chorus of people claiming that the CIO role would imminently become antiquated and unnecessary.
As you would expect, there was also a counter-chorus (made up mostly of IT executives) proclaiming the critical nature of the CIO role and why it was finally time for them to ascend to the top echelons of enterprise management and take their proverbial ‘seat at the table.’
And, of course, neither of these eventualities has really happened.
There are unquestionably instances in which each of these predictions has come true. There are a few organizations that have eliminated the CIO role and survived to tell the tale. And there are even more examples of CIOs who have successfully made the transition from IT executive to business leader and have expanded their roles to include corporate functions beyond IT.
But for the vast majority of organizations, there has been little to no change. The dearth of CIOs on the boards of public companies and the number of enterprise websites that don’t even list their CIOs amongst their top executives are just a couple of prominent indicators of the stasis that remains.
This, however, may all change in 2018.
I believe that this may finally be the year that the CIO role ‘crosses the Rubicon,’ leaving behind its traditional, IT-focused orientation. But I don’t believe that either of the previous predictions of this outcome — fading into oblivion or rising to a business executive level — is correct.
Instead, I think this is the year that we will see the role of the CIO transformed into something altogether different.
Before we get into why I think we’re on the cusp of a complete re-imagining of the CIO role, let’s address the reasons I believe we may have finally reached the tipping point.
The first reason is merely a matter of mathematics and timing. Since the forces of digital disruption began driving organizations into a period of radical transformation, there has been tremendous pressure on CIOs to transform their skills and perspectives so that they could lead their organizations into the future.
Many CIOs — particularly younger ones — jumped at the chance and undertook the arduous task of changing the way their organizations viewed and used technology. But many of these progressive IT executives hit an endless series of walls as they realized their organizations were not nearly as ready as they claimed for the upheaval that digital transformation would wreak.
For every CIO that jumped in head first, there were two or three others that crossed their arms, dug in their heels and paid just enough lip service to the requisite buzzwords to keep their jobs. Their lack of action and their demonstrated resistance to change, however, made it clear that they had no intention of leading any real transformation within their organizations.
It has taken some years for the less fortunate organizations employing these CIOs to come to grips with their reality and either wait for these executives to retire, move on, or to go through the unpleasant process of replacing them. But the good news is that, in my estimation, the clearing out of the old guard is mostly complete.
As I meet with IT executives at conferences or events, I almost universally find them to be progressive, thoughtful, and fully prepared to take their organizations into a bright new future. Few of them are willingly holding on to the relics of past operational models and architectures.
In fact, most of them lament that they have to do so much unwinding before they can get on with building the technology stack — and organization — of the future.
Frankly, it’s exciting to see, and I believe is the first reason that we’re about to turn the corner. As an industry, we have finally fielded the team we need to win this game.
We have been in a period of so-called digital disruption for the past ten or fifteen years. While the media and industry pundits (us included) talk about disruption and the digital transformation response to it as if they be de rigueur, the reality is that most enterprise organizations have approached their transformational activities much more timidly.
As much as the CIO’s executive counterparts may have been throwing around buzzwords, demanding to know why the organization was not yet “on the cloud,” or generally expressing frustration that IT was hindering their ability to compete, the fact remained that these executives still saw technology as the job of IT.
While these business executives were complaining and lamenting, they were mostly going about their business, to the chagrin of those progressive CIOs, as they always had. They failed to see that digital transformation was not about IT, but was, in fact, a business transformation that would change everything about how they worked and functioned.
The second reason that we’re at a tipping point is that I believe we have now crossed the digital transformation Rubicon. Non-IT executives have finally gotten the memo. They now understand the full business implications of digital transformation and, more importantly, are beginning to realize that they must radically transform their organizations, business models and how they apply technology as a result.
Critically, they also understand that there is no turning back. Like Julius Caesar in 49 BC, as he crossed the Rubicon river to make his way to Rome, business executives have realized that they have reached a point of no return and must continue on into a new and different future — one in which the old rules may not apply.
These developments, when taken together, have set the table, so to speak, for the ascent and transformation of the CIO.
Enterprise organizations now have the progressive, change-minded leaders at the technology helm. They have come to terms with the full impact of digital transformation, what it means to the organization and have accepted that they must press forward. And they are realizing that they have done the ‘easy stuff’ and now must buckle down and execute digital transformation for real.
These realizations will also lead them to another fact: that driving this full-throated transformation requires leaders who understand nearly every aspect of the business, intimately understand the technology itself, and who can work across the entirety of the enterprise functional domain to apply it holistically.
Moreover, these technology leaders must be able to rapidly assimilate the continually evolving and emerging technology landscape and then translate it into business advantage for their organizations — no easy task.
This is now a make or break moment for both CIOs and their organizations. Organizations must recognize that they will only thrive in the digital era with this type of leader as part of their core leadership team.
And it will be up to CIOs to seize this moment and finally take their rightful place in the enterprise. This is the year that it will all come together, one way or the other.
Copyright © Intellyx LLC. Intellyx publishes the Agile Digital Transformation Roadmap poster, advises companies on their digital transformation initiatives, and helps vendors communicate their agility stories. As of the time of writing, none of the organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx customers.