Cutter Consortium: The CIO is Dead! Long Live the CIO!

It has been painful to watch the perennial angst of the CIO community. Each year, each conference, and each industry rag frets about what ails the CIO and what kind of CIO the CIO will need to be in the future. When viewed as a whole, the CIO community is paranoid and schizophrenic. Not only do we hear multiple conflicting voices in our collective heads, we have a sense that the future we created is out to get us.

Here at Cutter Consortium, we tackled this issue of the future of the CIO with some thought provoking and wildly different perspectives, ranging from the CIO is dead meat to a new kind of CIO is emerging (see: The Great Recession Fallout: Will CIOs Be Elevated or Exterminated? Cutter IT Journal, January, 2010 . Editor’s note: Non-subscribers can download the issue free , with registration). Fun stuff.

Are we alone in this?

Maybe not. Interestingly, with the financial crisis in our rear-view mirror, I’ve been reading some pundits who are suggesting that the CFO should play an important but a distinct and somewhat different role: that of the corporate conscience for the firm. I am also finding a few suggesting the opposite: the CFO will likely find more and more of his or her functions outsourced or achieved through joint ventures. The role may be shifting to one that manages transactions but still demands communication and strategic skills. This will require a new kind of CFO who puts much less emphasis on old-style accounting skills and more on determining corporate strategy and leading company-wide initiatives to enhance corporate performance, reputation management, corporate governance, global marketing, compensation policies (including executives), treasury functions, and financial analytics.

Can you say echo?

To argue that the CIO role will disappear is to suggest that IT is no longer complex or dynamic and does not rise to a level of management difficulty that requires a C-level executive to attend to it. This means that at some level in the organization, and probably very high, dabblers and part-time professionals will be sufficient. Perhaps. But the kind of competitiveness in industries that heavily use IT is not for armchair strategists or part-time enthusiasts. It seems business innovation propagates rapidly in IT intensive industries, lowering barriers to entry but leading to a few large players who survived the bludgeoning of the laggards to death in the race for dominance (see Andrew McAfee’s post ). Hmmmm.

Always in motion the future is. And the speed of that motion isn’t decreasing. Information is perpetually mutable and increasing in its rate of transmission, growth, and mutation. Because of information’s explosive, fast mutability, bending it so that it can’t flow easily is a tactic that many will use (unwisely). Bending information so it can flow easily is still problematic. This will create continued market and boardroom friction. The CIO role has been and will continue to be focused on the information integration of the firm, especially as newer and more difficult forms of information grow.

This will require a full-time expert with plenty of leadership ability and a whole new set of skills in the areas of business strategy, corporate information dysfunction, personal and organizational technology adoption, and the role IT plays in shaping and reshaping corporate culture. Individual and collective cognition is intertwined with IT. Knitting together advantage from this mess is context-specific and idiosyncratic. Some firms will get this more right than their competitors. Being continually complex, pliable, and mutable, IT will be bent in a myriad of obvious and not-so-obvious bad ways to fit human failings. Companies will likely need CIOs to prevent this while charting the firm’s IT future.

A penny for your thoughts…

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