CIO: Chief Irrelevant Officer?


There is an increasing number of articles heralding the doom of CIOs and the IT departments that they lead.  Almost on a daily basis titles such as, “Are CMOs Making The CIO Irrelevant” and “More Proof That Shadow IT is a Growing Issue” fill my blog roll and the larger Twitterverse.  These articles talk about the growing ability of organizations outside of IT to go their own way, to roll out a system, program or feature that meets their needs.

I can’t say that I blame them.  With The Cloud delivering on the promise of cheaper, faster, connected, ubiquitous, scalable, secure, and accessible one simply needs a browser and a credit card to fire up a solution…  demos optional.  And it doesn’t stop there, companies such as Salesforce.com and Workday have incredibly rich platforms that makes it easy for any employee to whip up a robust application often without writing a single line of code.

Business leaders have always been operating in a “do-more-faster” mode as companies try to keep pace with their competition or maintain their competitive advantages.  With new cloud solutions arriving at an increasing rate and offering more and more features, IT no longer controls the infrastructure and can be avoided entirely.

So, are CIOs and IT as a whole, doomed?  No, but we need to think differently.  I see four ways CIOs and IT leaders can not only prevent becoming irrelevant, but also unlock their value within their company:

  1. Become a Trusted Adviser.  Dictionary.com defines trust as “a person on whom or thing on which one relies” – note it indicates a willing participation by the person doing the trusting.  It doesn’t say anything about control, dependency, or force.  I don’t believe business leaders want to manage all that comes with any solution, instead they want an organization that can give guidance, expertise and the ability to deliver relevant & timely solutions.  To become a trusted adviser you need to:
  2. Understand.  IT needs to understand the business processes and pain points of the organizations they support.  This seems self-evident, but it’s easier said than put into practice, mostly due to the complexity and the ever-changing nature of business.  What is known today will be outdated tomorrow.  Understanding, like staying in shape, needs to be done intentionally on a daily basis.  And understanding begins with:
  3. Be Social.  Trust and understanding are a result of establishing and fostering relationships.  Being social is critical to relationship building and with video conferencing, enterprise instant messaging, social media, and those old-fashioned things called legs, it is easier than ever to nurture a social network… again it’s a matter of effort.  And being social is much easier if you:
  4. Speak the Language.  Frame every decision, approach or solution in terms of the desired business goals being achieved.  Be honest about the costs of the proposal and review it from the point of view of those funding it.  Constantly attack the problem from multiple angles and consider non-traditional solutions.  The outcome should be a proposal that would make a trial lawyer smile – something that is so self-evident the final decision makers will be convinced half way through the argument.

Is it possible to fire up a cloud solution and meet some type of business need?  Absolutely.  But consider how that solution fits into the larger ecosystem and this is where IT can really help.  Will you need to integrate the system with others?  Does the system need data from other systems and if so where is that data coming from?  What type of reporting will you want to do?  How will users access the new system?  Are there security concerns?  Is there an opportunity to deliver the same features from an existing system – freeing up resources for other projects?  Are there compliance considerations?

The heralds are correct: change is definitely coming and anyone who keeps an eye on industry trends can see that.  Cloud and pace of innovation doesn’t need to be a wedge separating IT from the rest of the business.  Instead IT leaders need to do what they should have done all along to stay relevant – support they businesses they have the privilege of working for.

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