How the 3Cs are Redefining the CIO

By Ian Gotts

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In the past, life for a CIO was hard work but not an impossible undertaking. Today, however, things are getting more and more difficult faster and faster. But, for those who love a challenge, the CIO is the best seat in the house.

The main challenges CIOs face can be summed up with the 3Cs:

These “3Cs” are causing so many things in the world of the CIO to change. The technology world is going through a paradigm shift, just as it does every 10 years or so, but this time the CIOs relationship with the business is different. Technology is a critical resource for every company, just as electricity was in the 1930s. Back then they had Electricity Directors. Not so today. How long until the CIO’s role directing the provision of IT resource is defunct for similar reasons?

It has been said that CIO stands for “Career is Over” rather than “Chief Information Officer.” But what should the "I" in CIO stand for:

It is probably a little piece of all of them.

There has been a gentle shift in power over the last few years. Business buyers are taking the driving seat on software purchases with the IT department becoming another name for “IT Purchasing."

That trend is accelerating and the CIO has some strongly engrained "techie" prejudices to overcome. Therefore they need to start changing their game now before it is impossible to make the shift with any level of credibility. So the CIO should be spending less time less worrying about how to provide IT to the business and more time being the advisor about what benefits the business can glean from technology.

So, against this backdrop, let’s explore the how the 3Cs are affecting the world of the CIO in more detail:


The collective sales and marketing departments of consumer electronics companies around the world are driving up consumer anticipation for the latest technical wizardry with promises that it will change the world, save more time than ever, make you more attractive to the opposite sex and, gulp, have unparalleled battery life!

So what is the issue? These are consumer devices targeting consumers, right?


The line between consumer and business was finally swept away by Apple. Apple has finally managed to penetrate the business by providing devices that are the electronic equivalent to jewelry; items which are highly desirable; that consumers by with their own money and take to work. Once inside the building, these consumers turned business people demand that IT make their device connect to the corporate network and play well with everything there in.

Business users are consumers and, today, they get a better technology experience at home than at work. A staggering 74% of PCs in the workplace are still running WindowsXP. But, outside of the workplace, a plethora of PC devices of different shapes and sizes and an even bigger range of smartphones are being launched daily. They vary in form factor and increasingly Macs are being found in briefcases and on desks in more and more industries outside of media and advertising (Apple's traditional stronghold). The consequence for IT departments is at best more expectations management for their end-users customers; at worst an increasing variety of technology to integrate and support. (Based on experience probably a headache-inducing mix of both!)


As far back as 2008, when I was presenting at the Microsoft World Partner Conference, Steve Ballmer’s keynote told people to take the cloud seriously. Now we have the public cloud, private cloud, G-cloud, the stealth cloud plus Microsoft has launched a concept called the personal cloud. Where is all that corporate data going when it is synced in these clouds? What data protection or corporate security policies will be broken?

So much as been written about the cloud but mostly from a technical perspective; security, cost savings, virtualization, plus the long running debate (inside of IT anyway)of “Is it really a cloud app if it is not multi-tenant?”

These are all valuable discussions but if we look from the CIO’s perspective there are wider issues. The CIO is being looked to by the rest of the executive team for advice and guidance on how IT can help improve their operation in terms of information, integration, innovation, investment and insight. The cloud is a key part of that strategy. Not just for cost-saving reasons which are good, or for Green reasons which are laudable, but, because of the opportunities that it opens up; including the ability to liberate non-office-based staff, provide better business continuity and address new markets more easily and quickly, all at lower cost.

Recent research by outsourcing advisory company, TPI, shows that only five percent of CIOs have a cloud strategy. An even more worrying number is a further 20 percent said they did not have the resources to even develop one!

This is short sighted at best. This is doing the easy stuff; playing with technology and fixing today’s problems, rather than the hard stuff; sitting down with a blank sheet and thinking realistically about the future. And a huge number of business people are using cloud services oblivious to the security, reputation and compliance risk that they are exposing their organizations to. Most are doing it without the advice, support or authority of thee CIO. Hence, we’ve been calling it the Stealth cloud -- an extension of the ever-popular Shadow IT but, like the blood-sucking Vampire it may come to be, one that doesn’t cast a shadow.


Every business is being put under significantly more regulatory compliance. And the regulators have teeth with the ability to fine, halt operations or send senior executives to prison. This has focused minds, raised the stakes and released IT budgets.

Why IT?

The ability to comply with the plethora of regulatory standards requires sophisticated IT support. At the heart of all regulation is the management of information. The CIO is pivotal to achieving compliance -- at an acceptable cost. And when it goes wrong, if an audit is failed, they are seen as partly to blame.

It’s said that “Compliance is easy." All you have to do is write down what you want people to do, get them to do it and prove that they did it. See the problem?

To achieve compliance you need clearly documented processes which are presented in a way that end-users can understand, rather than BPMN, XPDL, BPEL, on an interface they want to use (Web, tablet or smartphone). It needs to be linked to supporting applications (SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, etc.), documents and policy statements must be held somewhere (Sharepoint , FileNet, Documentum, etc.), and there must be metrics (Excel and BI system, etc. interfaces). Finally, add collaboration and governance over all these artifacts and you have "auditable sustainable improvement."

This user-centric business process management (BPM) is also being called SocialBPM. Some of our clients, such as Carphone Warehouse, call it How2 because that is what is means to their staff. Could you achieve this using Visio and PowerPoint with some Sharepoint thrown in? No. In exactly the same way that your finance department doesn’t do their accounts using Excel and some clever macros. They use an accounting package.

Fortune 500 companies around the world like Nestlé, HSBC, Chevron or Novartis see this approach is complementary to their core applications and critical to maintaining compliance at an acceptable cost. That is why this form of BPM is thriving in industries where compliance is critical such as pharma, banking, insurance, oil and gas.

But for the CIO compliance is far wider than just process management. It touches every information asset: customer data, process information, application configuration, user directory, social media and corporate websites. Much of it is outside the firewall in the cloud or on a person’s personal "device."

So does CIO really stand for Career Is Over? Based on the backdrop of the 3Cs is seems that the role of the CIO today has a limited life. For those on a career path aiming towards CIO this is completely demoralizing, which can be summarized as, “You’ve been climbing the corporate ladder only to find it is leaning on the wrong wall."

Thankfully, it is not as bleak as that. There are CIOs making a transition. They are embracing rather than fighting the 3Cs. Employees’ consumer orientated devices like iPads are more likely to be accepted and integrated into the network infrastructure. Cloud computing is being actively baked into IT strategies. And finally compliance is now considered a part of the business operations supported by IT, rather than delegated to the Quality or Risk team.

This shift will not be done tomorrow, but over the next two-to-five years. The smaller the organization the faster and more dramatic the transition. Yes, the role of the CIO, as manager of the IT department full of developers, service delivery and infrastructure will diminish. As per John Chamber’s recent comments at Gartner Symposium, the CIO will increasingly become a trusted advisor to the business. They will be architects of the IT capability. Managers of third party suppliers requiring commercial and procurement skills. Their role model and career path will be more like a partner at Accenture or PwC rather than through the ranks of IT. This has profound effects on who they see as role models, their career path and aspirations.

Like the addict looking for a way out, the first step of any transformation is admitting you have a problem.

Founder and CEO of Nimbus Partners. Ian Gotts is the author of six books including, Common Approach, Uncommon Results; Why Killer Products Don’t Sell; and two Thinking of … books on cloud computing. He is a prolific blogger with a rare ability to make the complex seem simple, which makes him a sought-after and entertaining conference speaker. His book, Thinking of ... Offering a cloud Solution? Ask the Smart Questions, articulates the opportunities and the challenges ISVs face in their transition to the cloud.