The CIO's Role Morphs Yet Again

Aug 2, 2011

Pam Baker

The CIO role continues to morph in the face of changing economic and technological pressures. The good news is that the CIO’s new role surpasses the initial goal of winning a seat at the table with the other C-suite players.

Unfortunately, that’s also the bad news.

“Never has the pressure been higher for the CIO to be on top of his game,” said Raj Sabhlok, president of ManageEngine, a division of Zoho Corporation. “Whereas in the past, the CIO focused on outfitting the organization with networks, servers, desktops and applications at well negotiated prices, the CIO now is on the hook for the success of the business as a whole.”

That’s not to say that the CIO has received a reprieve on his back office responsibilities. Everyone in the entire organization still expects the lights to stay on and their latest personal gadget to work seamlessly on the company network. And he’s not off the hook on security matters either -- although there’s at least some help on that front.

“Information security, traditionally a CIO responsibility, has been pushed into the chief information security officer (CISO) role,” said Mike Meikle, CEO of the Hawkthorne Group, a boutique management and technology consulting firm. “However the inside and outside threats that potentially could impact the enterprise are still regarded as a component of the CIO’s job description.”

Despite continued responsibilities carried over from the traditional role, the CIO now finds himself in need of a completely different skill set in order to cope with the expanded role. It also helps if he has the ability to willingly release bits and pieces of his former turf even while he continues to shoulder the responsibility.

"Don’t be afraid to give up the data center and re-architect backend systems to keep up with the business demands that change so frequently,” advised Michael Walsh, VP of IT and Technical Services at D-Link. “In today’s fast-paced business landscape, it’s critical to move out of the infrastructure business and focus on business automation.”

Strategy & revenue

The modern CIO must be able to strategically select and manage an ever-changing field of technologies based on their capability to add or enhance revenue all the while knowing that she no longer has full control of technology adoption. She knows that business users are likely to spin up a third-party or internal virtual machine at a whim, use appliances without prior approval and thus hike licensing costs, and go off the reservation to download apps with little regard for security.

Still, the CIO is accountable for it all.

"In the past six months alone, we have observed increasing growth of purchases by non-IT personnel, which is driving sales of cloud services and replacing or paralleling established command and control IT structures,” said Soumen Ganguly, principal of strategy consulting group Altman Vilandrie & Company. “CIOs are not only challenged by the consumerization of IT, but also the democratization of IT; changes at the bottom are rising to the top.”

Meanwhile, the enterprise is expecting the CIO to also identify and generate new revenue streams.

“In other words, the CIO has become a business partner to innovate new business models and make money as opposed to simply being a cost center supervisor,” explained Sabhlok.

Innovation is not the same as invention. The CIO is therefore relieved of any need to write code or design IT products to carry on the company’s business. Instead, he is expected to look at the full menu of current and emerging technologies and mash them up in ways uniquely suited to powering the company’s profits and future. It’s akin to doing a magic hat trick without knowing whether you should pull a rabbit or a giraffe from it in order to please the audience.

Still, the elevation of CIO to prime rainmaker is a logical step.

“If you think about it, the CIO is one of the few executives who has visibility across the entire company -- from development, point of sale, fulfillment, to accounts receivable -- they support the whole process,” said Todd McKinnon, CEO of Okta, a cloud infrastructure company, and the former head of engineering for

“Who better to understand how to engineer growth? The most successful CIOs we work with are known more for their change management and vision-fulfillment skills rather than their technical skills," he added.

For the bold and the brave, this new spotlight is warming and the challenges thrilling. For the more timid, this can be a scary job change.

In any case, the role of CIO has changed so much that some think it has become an entirely new job.

“It's time to throw out the title of ‘CIO,’ and build a new role and title that better reflects the business value that heads of IT can bring to the business,” said Mark Settle, CIO of BMC Software.

A prolific and versatile writer, Pam Baker's published credits include numerous articles in leading publications including, but not limited to: Institutional Investor magazine,, NetworkWorld, ComputerWorld, IT World, Linux World, Internet News, E-Commerce Times, LinuxInsider, CIO Today Magazine, NPTech News (nonprofits), MedTech Journal, I Six Sigma magazine, Computer Sweden, NY Times, and Knight-Ridder/McClatchy newspapers. She has also authored several analytical studies on technology and eight books. Baker also wrote and produced an award-winning documentary on paper-making. She is a member of the National Press Club (NPC), Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and the Internet Press Guild (IPG).

Tags: Zoho, CIO, BMC Software, D-Link, ManageEngine, Okta,

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