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Shane O'Neill
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Future CIO: Embrace Digital, Become A Business Partner

CIOs should prepare for an era of digital disruption where a decentralized IT department is spread across the company.

20 Great Ideas To Steal In 2013
20 Great Ideas To Steal In 2013
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For a role assigned with the vital task of deploying technology to drive business growth, the CIO gets surprisingly little respect.

Mean-spirited monikers like "Chief Idiot Officer" and "Career Is Over" rear their ugly heads when CIOs linger too long as the manager of a cost center rather than a revenue producer. The CIO of 2013 should stand at the center of a digital disruption shift caused by social media and mobile tools, cloud services and data analytics, and he or she must shift with it to survive.

The big test will be whether CIOs can embrace these digitally disruptive technologies and adapt to IT no longer being a centralized unit, but rather spread across other departments like marketing, finance, sales and manufacturing.

[ How will the advent of social transform the role of the CIO? Read Picturing Your Social Business In 2020. ]

At its CIO Forum in June, Forrester analysts argued that over the next seven years the IT department as we know it will disappear and a decentralized model will take hold.

But Forrester SVP and analyst Christopher Mines emphasized in an email that cloud services and the consumerization of IT are not the principal causes of IT being decentralized. It will mainly happen because technology is now so important to every part of a company that business units will demand a say in technology decisions.

"Business execs that we interview tell us that 'technology is too important to be left to the technologists,'" says Mines. "Business leaders need to have their hands on, and their budgets on, technology."

The implication for CIOs is loss of control as their IT departments are fragmented. The best response, says Mines, is to strengthen relationships with the business and be a trusted advisor on issues like interoperability, architecture standards, security and data management. "These are things that business folks will likely not focus on and will land on IT's lap anyway," Mines says. "It's better to address them sooner than later."

In an August article, Tom Kemp, CEO of identity management software maker Centrify, agreed that IT departments will inevitably fragment due to the increased use of SaaS apps that are specialized for each department. CIOs will then be judged on how they stay ahead of the tech curve and work with other departments.

If they don't adapt, the future could be a scary place for CIOs, says Shane Closser, VP of worldwide customer experience at Virtusa, a Massachusetts-based IT consulting firm. "A lot of CIOs still don't understand the digital world. There won't be many of those types left in five years," Closser warns.

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The CIOs that stand a chance in 2020, he says, are focusing on customer engagement now and allocating budget for mobile and social tools and data analytics. "Digital-minded CIOs come up with better forecasts using analytics. They update the CMS [content management system]. They look for ways to change the business model before they go out of business," Closser says.

The silver lining here is that newer tools that enable customer engagement and data analytics will only make software more essential to a company's "brand" and how it's perceived by customers and employees who continue to use the Web, social media and mobile apps to get things done, according to Forrester.

In this context, the nimble CIO could flourish as an orchestra conductor of cloud services and social and mobile innovation. But before doing so, CIOs must take a hard look at skill gaps within their own staffs.

"I'm more worried about what happens to the rank-and-file IT worker than the CIO," says Forrester VP and analyst John McCarthy. "CIOs will need staff that live at the intersection of mobile, social and data analytics more than they'll need network engineers."

"Hire some data scientists," adds Forrester's Mines.

InformationWeek research shows that many CIOs are looking forward. According to our 2013 Global CIO survey covering IT trends and concerns, collaboration with other departments and preparation for and investment in new technologies are priorities (118 IT executives at organizations with 100 or more employees were surveyed in Feb. 2013).

--When asked about the primary areas on which they spend their time, 33% of respondents answered, "Educating myself about the next wave of technologies."

--Similarly, when asked about what represents the main opportunity for CIOs today, the top two answers were "Use customer/business data to influence new products and services and drive growth," and "Move the company closer to its customers via technology."

--Respondents cited Web and mobile applications as the top two most important platforms to building closer ties with external customers.

--A large majority of respondents report that collaboration with customer service, finance, operations/manufacturing and marketing departments are all good or excellent.

Out in the real word, there are plenty examples of forward-looking CIOs using mobile, social and data analytics tools and working with other departments to solve business problems. Take a look at our annual InformationWeek 500 coverage for stories of IT innovators that turned great ideas into action.

Of course, we do NOT live in some utopia where business and IT execs always see eye-to-eye and CIOs are content with their budgets. But our survey results and InformationWeek 500 winners indicate CIOs are working to adapt to a new order.

Learn more about forward-thinking IT management by attending the Interop conference track on Business of IT in New York from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4.

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