The Empowered BT Era Will Force (Yes, Force) A New Role For CIOs - And Drag IT Out Of The Backrooms

Reporting Manager. Computer Systems Manager. MIS Director. IT Manager. Chief Technology Officer. Director Of IT. Chief Information Officer. 

It's not just a change of job title. It's the recognition of the change of an era.

While the current term "CIO" engenders a spirit of managing information assets (not technology) the reality for many is that the CIO role is still just as much about operations, platforms, products, vendors and contracts as it is about developing the strategic value of information within the organization. But while we are distracted by the day-to-day running of our businesses, we forget that the world truly is changing. The old adage that we "overestimate what can be achieved in a year and underestimate what can be achieved in five" has never been more true.

CIOs are the new face of a new generation. We don't have a cool new name for you yet -- but it's coming. Whatever you will be called, it is what you do that will ultimately define you.

With these changes comes a completely new set of skills and capabilities for all of "IT" (I'm sure in 20 years' time even that will be called something different). The journey has already started. The ground has been moving beneath your feet for some time now. It's time to stop trying to "gain a seat at the table" and start organizing the party.

Here's just a couple of things we're seeing that are forcing CIOs roles to change and what to do about it -- now. 

The balance has already shifted from predominantly internal supply to external supply. Even organizations who have large in-house operations and have so far resisted the trend for outsourcing are being threatened. You can hold onto the internal legacy systems as long as you like. But while you're doing that, the business and business users are choosing their own future solutions and their own "software-supported service providers". It's not about technology outsourcing. It's not about BPO (business process outsourcing). It's not even about managed services. The fact is, more and more of the technology we use and rely on every day exists outside of our organizational control. Start by developing better sourcing and governance capabilities. Forget however good you think the organization already is at it. In five years' time, you'll look back to 2012 and wonder why you didn't start five years sooner.

There is no "big suite" solution. Over the past 30+ years, IT has thrived on the ideals of consolidation and centralisation. One system. One repository. One place to put stuff. If only I had a penny for every time I heard the phrase "we need a single repository". For years I've been saying that users don't care about where something lives. They care about how to access it. It's not about a single repository. It's about a seamless repository. Google doesn't hold the world's information sources. It's merely appears to users like it does. Forget the big suites. The one system. The strategic vendor. Focus on the right tool for the right job. Focus on the fact that the job will change -- and so should the tools. The building industry hasn't rested on its laurels because it thinks it's found the one perfect set of materials, construction methods and tools to do every job. Why do we think in IT that there's only one vendor, one platform or one language that we need to deal with? Embrace diversity, but still maintain a focus on management. Continuous design will be a capability that every organization will need to learn. It's not about doing it "right" the first time. It's about continually doing it better and better.   

Systems are no longer isolated -- and neither are we. Over the last decade and a half, the world has connected -- and interconnected -- an amazing array of technologies. We are now all completely dependent on each other. And so are our systems. Our newer systems are not built on batch uploaded data sets that we can control and cleanse -- but on masses of big data that we need to extract meaning and structure from. We can't have the luxury of first defining a structure and populating data into it. We must work with what we have or what we can get. Fast. The data is out there. Somewhere. And we need to know how to deal with it. Virtualization, cloud and software-as-service are just the beginning. By integrating our systems we are not only adding value to our own organizations but to others as well. BT CIOs will become the increasingly public face of companies worldwide. They will act as ambassadors and negotiators. Strategic relationship builders and social leaders. It's not just about managing your own staff. It's about managing other people's staff. The CIO of the (very near) future will be characterized by their ability to be a public face and a strategic leader. It's not about just being part of executive management. It's about leading it. Openly and publicly. Innovation and co-creation will typify the BT CIOs role, and it will require a completely new set of skills and capabilities (for most people).

These are only three of the changes that we see that will drive change in the CIO role and what we think you should do about them -- embrace continuous design, develop better capabilities in sourcing and governance and focus on leading the organization with innovations that matter.

Regardless of what we're ultimately called, BT CIOs will need to respond to the changing nature of technology and technology management. 

We'll be talking more about these issues in depth at our upcoming CIO Forum events in Las Vegas and Paris over the next couple of months, and I'd love to meet with you in person to help understand your challenges and to hear your opportunities. Drop me a line to organize a one-on-one meeting or simply come along and listen to the keynotes. It's your future we'll be talking about.