Is the role of CIO still relevant?

Summary:There's a battle raging for the soul of IT.

Sharyn Leaver

Sharyn Leaver

Yes

or

No

Dion Hinchcliffe

Dion Hinchcliffe

Best Argument: Yes

73%
27%

Audience Favored: Yes (73%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

More important than ever

There's no denying the role of the CIO has changed, but Forrester would argue that it is more important than ever before. In the age of the customer, firms need to serve increasingly tech-savvy, connected, and powerful customers. That requires top-notch technology, systems, and processes that help win, serve, and retain those customers. Going forward, this will be the primary role of CIOs.

The CIO job is not about keeping the lights on anymore; in this new world, successful CIOs will work with their business peers to co-create digital customer experiences,products, and services. These disruptive CIOs will become agents of change who arm the business with the data and technologies it needs to meet its customers digital needs anytime, anywhere and disrupting its business model — before others do.

Can all of today's CIOs make this shift? No. But the role of the CIO will absolutely remain essential for the foreseeable future.

Special Report: The Battle for the Soul of IT

On borrowed time

Today's chief information officer is living on borrowed time. While the title of CIO isn't about to disappear anytime soon, the role itself is undergoing a historic transformation. The tension between the CIO's vital twin roles -- as 1) tech innovator and 2) keeper of the infrastructure -- is becoming untenable as IT moves more to the cloud and digital business becomes a top priority. Today's companies increasingly need a tech visionary that leads the business from the front, even while they still desire a safe but otherwise staid hardware and software manager keeping the back office humming and ensuring business continuity.

External forces are disrupting the role of the CIO as well, from cheap outsourcing providers and free app stores to highly competitive new startups that are bringing disruptive new technology and business models to their doorstep. With more and more tech responsibility moving out from the CIO role to business units, the CMO, and the new chief digital officer, the role of CIO is facing real dislocation today.

Related coverage:

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Welcome

    ...to this week's Great Debate. Are we ready?


    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Yes

    Let's go.

    Sharyn Leaver

    I am for Yes

    Me too

    Let's get started.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Who will pick up the pieces?

    If CIOs are increasingly irrelevant, what CXO do you expect to pick up the slack for technology deployments?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Plenty to choose from

    There is no shortage of C-level titles ready to take the reins from CIOs -- many of whom haven't recognized that we are in the age of the customer, a 20-year business cycle in which the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers. CDOs and CMOs may be best positioned to take on this role, but neither has the technical expertise of the CIO, who remains best positioned to drive the technology transformation required in the age of the customer - assuming he or she can align with the needs of the business to put the end customer first.

    Sharyn Leaver

    I am for Yes

    Duties will be broken up

    In today's enterprises, responsibility for technology is simply becoming more widely distributed. For example, as responsibility and demand for additional technology comes from more parts of the business, we're now seeing line of business executives who forge ahead on their own with custom mobile apps, or specialized digital experiences for customers/suppliers. These are two common examples of technology deployments that non-IT execs now spearhead themselves, to meet their local needs on their own timetables.

    We're also seeing that the CMO's budget for technology is growing rapidly enough to displace a large part of the IT budget by itself. And the new Chief Digital and Customer Officers are also becoming extensively invested in their own technology portfolios, many with their dedicated budgets and controls. And lastly, many CFOs are now positioning themselves as the decision makers in IT, including extensively outsourcing much of the tactical aspects of IT these days.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Business disconnect

    Why has alignment with the business been so hard for the CIO role? And are we improving?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Pick up the pace

    Alignment starts with the planning process. Most CIOs build their IT strategies using a typical waterfall approach that starts with the defined business strategy and prioritizes IT projects that support the stated business goals and initiatives. On the surface, this makes perfect sense. But today’s business environment is moving at a much more accelerated pace than it ever has before, thanks to constant pressures to serve increasingly empowered customers. CIOs struggle to anticipate changing business needs and quickly deliver the technology required to support them.  And frankly, they aren’t often incented to do so – many CIO still don’t share common goals with their business peers.

    Most CIOs are improving, but 51 percent of business decision-makers still believe that IT is an impediment to accelerating business success. As the age of the customer picks up steam, CIOs will need to co-create business technology strategies and adopt joint business goals with their customer-facing business peers.

    Sharyn Leaver

    I am for Yes

    Divide and conquer

    For many organizations, the CIO has a primarily technology background and has come up from the often-insular ranks of the IT department. While companies used to rotate business people through the CIO role, that didn't work very well either. In the end, disparate cultures has kept alive a pernicious IT/business divide that has kept the technology teams from easy alignment with the business teams in many organizations. This is one of the reasons that IT departments inside of high tech companies often perform at a much higher level than average.

    Is the alignment gap closing? Probably, but I believe not in the way that most people expect. As business becomes more technology-centric, business people are demanding more from IT these days. When they don't get it, they simply route around them, creating competition and motivation for IT to align. I expect that IT departments will ultimately align, become outsourced/cloudsourced, or have many of their responsibilities -- especially market-facing functions -- moved to the CMO or CDO.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What's missing in education?

    Do computer science degrees and STEM education prepare anyone to be a CIO? What's missing?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Technical background a necessity

    There’s no question that deep science and technical training is valuable expertise for any CIO. Having the technical “dirt under their fingernails” develops credibility and vision for what’s technically possible. But technical chops alone won’t get the job done. In fact, it’s not even the most important skill. Successful CIOs must be able to work with their business peers to co-create digital customer experiences, products, and services. That will require training and know-how in business strategy and customer facing business functions – namely marketing, sales, product development, and/or service. It will also require strong leadership, communication, and change management skills to galvanize their organizations to help drive their firms’ business technology agenda.

    Sharyn Leaver

    I am for Yes

    Mixing tech and business

    Yes, a rigorous foundation in technology greatly improves the understanding of what's theoretically possible in IT. Therefore, in general, computer science and STEM education makes one much more comfortable with both the opportunities and limitations of technology itself. In addition, the ideal CIO should be as conversant in business as much as the tech, and they also need to have both great listening and facilitating skills. Finally, it help if they are a natural entrepreneur when it comes to applying technology to the business. Have all of these skills in one person is a tall order, and why it's difficult to become an effective CIO.

    Yet this ignores the No.1 pressure on the CIO to provide the stable IT foundation for the whole organization, and ensure business continuity. So many CIOs are instead pushed from the tech leader role to the repairman role, which doesn't set an expectation for them to exercise the digital leadership required. This is one of the major reasons why the CIO role appears to be separating from its tactical and strategic roles.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    CDO needed?

    Do you see the chief digital officer as an enterprise IT kingmaker?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    No

    As business becomes fundamentally digital, some organizations will need a chief digital officer (CDO) to break down silo barriers and act as a catalyst. But many of the CDOs Forrester has spoken with see themselves as being in a temporary role. And the CDO role is completely unnecessary –- even as a temporary role -- for those firms who have an existing digitally savvy senior executive or team of executives equipped to coordinate digital resources across the company.

    Sharyn Leaver

    I am for Yes

    Yes

    It's a natural fit that the CDO, being freed from the day-to-day operations of basic IT functions that often hampers the CIO, can focus on more strategic opportunities. Examples of what the CDO can be a kingmaker on will include capitalizing on long-underutilized digital assets or forging more comprehensive programs to create better full-spectrum customer/supplier experiences. The CDO also has the time, mandate, and purview to cultivate top-of-line digital programs that make the most of enterprise-sized technology opportunities such as open APIs, digital ecosystems, open innovation, cloud computing, and big data, to name a few examples. That's something that today's CIO, all too often pulled back into the minutiae of keeping existing systems all operating, governed, secure, and compliant, just can't make a top priority.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    CDO: Here today, gone tomorrow?

    Gartner has argued that chief digital officers are popular today, but won't be around in 5 years. Why? Everything will be digital by then. Do you agree or disagree and why?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Gone tomorrow

    Fully embracing digital opportunity requires a full-scale overhaul of culture, people, processes, technology, and measurement — the capabilities of the business — including breaking down functional silos. This could take longer than 5 years for many firms. However, the longevity of the CDO role won’t be defined by how long it takes for everything to become digital. The CDO role is a change agent role that won’t exist at all in firms that already have a digitally-savvy C-suite, and will be a temporary role in those firms that do not.

    Sharyn Leaver

    I am for Yes

    Here to stay

    There's typically a large backlog of digital transformation, integration, and "catch up" to do in many large organizations, and so there's a lot of work for today's CDO to do. But even if CDOs can largely catch up, the pace of technological change will ensure that there's almost plenty more to do to align the organization with the current state of the digital marketplace. While it's possible that more matured digital functions will be subsumed into their most appropriate business home within the the organization, there is no other officer who has as a top purview to spearhead new initiatives. So I think the CDO is here to stay in today's digitally pervasive business world.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Chain of command

    Who should the CIO report to?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    A tech enthusiast

    Conventional wisdom would say the CEO, and that’s probably true in most cases for all of the obvious reasons – highest visibility, peer relationship with other C-level execs, etc. However, what’s more important is that the CIO reports to a tech-enthusiast. So in those firms where the CEO is not bullish on the importance of technology to their future (and there aren’t many left out there), the CIO would be better off reporting to the COO, CMO, or even Chief Customer Officer.

    Sharyn Leaver

    I am for Yes

    The CEO

    The CEO. The COO is responsible for operating the current business, the CFO is charged with its financial health and profit, and the CMO, CCO, even CDO and other officers are typically charged with functionally specific responsibilities. Only the CEO is principally charged with moving the company forward into the future, and the CIO should be building a technology foundation for this evolution.

    Now, if you've agreed with my argument that the CIO has a hard time prioritizing a vision for the future, then I think the CIO should report to the COO or CFO and the CDO should report to the CIO when they have a large enough enterprise-wide digital portfolio.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    More credit?

    Why hasn't the CIO role received its due in recent years? Do you feel the CIO has gotten a bum rap?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    No. Many are falling behind

    Many CIOs just haven’t kept pace with the world we live in today. In this age of the customer, every single moment of engagement is precious to a seller and must be a source of value to a buyer. Consequently, businesses must obsessively focus strategy, energy, and resources on activities that enhance knowledge of and engagement with customers. The most successful businesses will be those that quickly learn and remember how to marshal the organization's talents to apply broadly available technologies to create differential customer experience. But today, many CIOs fail the customer-obsession test because their teams spend too much time, attention, and money marginally enhancing back-office and IT processes, and haven't built credibility with business peers in customer-facing roles. More often than not, they also lack the skills and expertise required to deploy customer-facing systems.

    Only 14 percent of the CIOs budget is currently being allocated to improve sales, marketing and customer service processes. And, an astonishing 51 percent of business decision-makers believe that IT is an impediment to accelerating business success. As the age of the customer picks up steam, building intimate working relationships with customer-facing functions will be a top leadership challenge for CIOs.

    Sharyn Leaver

    I am for Yes

    The 'Maytag repairman'

    Probably because of the perception that the CIO has become the proverbial "Maytag repairman", meaning they're only called or thought about when something goes wrong. An influential CIO study in 2011 by Deloitte showed that only 1 in 10 CIOs are willing to be 'revolutionary', meaning having a desire to amke significant changes that had business impact. In a time in history with the greatest technological change, that's not a good default stance. Thus too many CIOs have become operationally focused and distracted from technological leadership, though certainly there are well-known exceptions.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Who's accountable?

    What role do you see being ultimately accountable for enterprise IT deployments?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    The CIO

    Ultimately, the CIO and his/her organization. Empowered customers are disrupting every industry — and CIOs need to understand how technology management must adapt in this rapidly evolving world. The customer will place harsh and unfamiliar demands on institutions, necessitating changes in how they develop, market, sell, and deliver products and services. CIOs and their teams will be called on to support these changes, widening their agendas well beyond IT (infrastructure) to include business technology (BT) — technology, systems, and processes to win, serve, and retain customers.

    Sharyn Leaver

    I am for Yes

    It depends

    It depends on the enterprise IT deployment. Lower level IT infrastructure is a natural fit for the CIO, as is the existing technology portfolio whenever it's not related to the future of the organization's digital business. Strategic technology transformation and deployment is better left to the CDO, especially if it's not line-of-business systems. This will often mean that when IT is a profit center and part of the business itself, the CDO is a better fit than the CIO. Most organizations will have to come up with their own rationalizations and rules for partitioning responsibility for new IT deployments that meet their local needs and requirements in their industry and specific operating cultures.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Biggest challenges

    What are the biggest challenges facing CIOs today?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Staying ahead of the game

    The CIO must now manage two agendas: the IT portion of the tech management agenda, which includes tools to support finance, procurement, resource planning, etc, as well as a myriad of systems necessary for regulatory compliance. The BT agenda, which focuses on providing superior customer experiences, remains more elusive. It requires new discipline and doesn't follow an easily automated process or formula. Less mature yet rapidly evolving technologies for superior customer interactions — including social, mobile, customer analytics, and customer experience management — drive BT ecosystem. BT will provide the next big technology payoff as companies find innovative ways to intercept and engage empowered customers through digital interfaces, devices, and services. But to realize that payoff, CIOs will have to work hard to increase funding, shift resources, and re-tool to drive their BT agendas.

    Sharyn Leaver

    I am for Yes

    Four goals

    1) Far too much technology advancement to keep up with.

    2) Too much demand from the business for new technology.

    3) Too much distraction by operational issues.

    4) Too little credibility with the business.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Facing the challenges

    How can those CIOs overcome them?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Step it up

    The way forward is clear. CIOs must step up to the challenge of the age of the customer and reshape the role they personally play in business and the role that technology management plays in building customer value. To make BT work, tech management must:

    1.) Pursue increased funding. This is never a popular imperative — especially with the CEO. Tech management has been in cost-cutting mode for years, so lobbying for more money will feel very foreign. But here's the simple logic: Putting money into BT will translate into acquiring more customers and pleasing and retaining those that you have. Unlike IT, which is and should always be driven by higher efficiency (and lower costs), BT represents an investment yielding increased revenue and increased profitability.

     2)  Find new hours. Tech management is going from one work stream to two. This will require CIOs to find new space on their calendars. Forrester advocates the continual movement of IT technologies into the cloud, a strategy that will free up resources that can be redirected toward building BT.

     3) Organize to foster customer obsession in tech management. Forrester believes that IT and BT must remain closely aligned because the two agendas, while generally discrete, are deeply connected. Forcing artificial barriers between them will ensure organizational confusion, decreased efficiency, and disjointed customer experiences. However, the differing basic missions of IT and BT — IT focuses on cost containment, BT focuses on customer attainment — warrant some specialized staffing. One can envision shared staff in applications development to oversee those systems (e.g., CRM) that ultimately serve customers.

    Sharyn Leaver

    I am for Yes

    Separation of powers

    Many CIOs I talk with see a natural separation forming between the top portion of the strategic IT portfolio (say 20 percent of their purview) and the 80 percent forming the foundation that supports it. By reforming IT into these two groups, there is a chance to solve many of the issues relating to tech demand, change, and too much focus on operational concerns. This might make IT more responsive and build credibility for technology/business leadership. Or, the risk goes, the best parts of the digital portfolio might just be handed to the CDO.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The prom date

    CMOs are the prom queens of IT this year? Do you expect that love affair to continue into 2014?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    It looks like love

    Absolutely. The relationship between marketing and IT is mission critical for the future of the CIO, but there is still a lot of work to be done. For instance, just 7 percent of marketing leaders and 11 percent of IT leaders are confident in their ability to communicate each other's priorities. But with digital fluency and deep customer understanding, CMOs and CIOs are uniquely positioned to bring competitive advantage to their businesses and as such, must forge a new path of collaboration. Forrester believes alignment must evolve across three key areas: people, process, and technology. With the right relationship, marketing and IT can create a powerful combined force that delivers on end-to-end processes that the customer informs and technology transforms.

    Sharyn Leaver

    I am for Yes

    Rocky relationship

    Many CMOs have a lot to deliver on next year and it will be a test of their IT skills to realize the promises made by and expectations put upon them this year. I've noticed a recent rise in the title of 'CIO of Marketing" to build local IT competency within marketing, so we'll see what happens.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The ideal CIO

    Last question: What would your ideal composite CIO look like? Where would he/she acquire these talents?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    An all pro

    A customer-obsessed, tech-savvy business leader with vision and the ability to galvanize change. There is no one path to acquiring these talents. But clearly a combination of education and experience across customer-facing, strategy, and technical fields is the ideal composition.

    Sharyn Leaver

    I am for Yes

    A politican

    When I see a particularly successful CIO, I typically see one that is equal parts pragmatic business person, technology visionary, and empathetic problem solver.  Perhaps the best training grounds I can think of for these skills is to run your own business for a while. Or run for public office, win, and learn how to keep your constituents happy.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thanks for coming.

    And thanks to the debaters for their insightful answers. Here's you chance to help us pick a winner by casting a ballot for your favorite. You can read the debater's closing arguments on Wednesday, and I will deliver my verdict on Thursday. Don't forget to read the comments and add yours. Until next week...

    Posted by Larry Dignan

Closing Statements

CIOs will bridge the gap

Sharyn Leaver

With the age of the customer upon us, technology-fueled, customer-led disruption will continue to arrive unexpectedly at the doorstep of nearly every organization. Customers expect everything faster, better, cheaper, and at a higher degree of service.

CIOs will be instrumental in bridging that gap — but, their role will look much different than it does currently. Today, just 10 percent of CIOs are responsible for owning and driving digital strategy, innovation, and ultimately, disruption. By 2018, Forrester predicts that number will rise to 20 percent and another 50 percent of CIOs will co-own business outcomes that are tied to disruptive innovation and strategy.

To make that shift, successful CIOs will reshape the role they personally play in business and the role that technology management plays in building customer value. How? By driving a culture of customer obsession within their organizations, identifying and implementing innovations that drive customer engagement, and relentlessly working to create agility into their enterprises.

Organizations will look to new leaders

Dion Hinchcliffe

There's little question today that the CIO role is in the process of shifting and being re-imagined: A strong and visionary technology leader is needed to guide our businesses into the future. However, given the stance for the average CIO today on operational issues and mission-critical applications, the concern is that the role will always hamper the organization as enterprises increasingly centralize around digital business.

For now, the tactical side seems to be winning as the role is envisioned today. Other day-to-day issues crowd the plate of the CIO,too. A concordance of brand new concerns is crowding IT leaders' agendas as well. These range from rising public worries over data control and transparency, a raft of emerging policy and regulation issues related to issues such as national health care reform, to the ever-present need to update legacy IT portfolios while meeting a growing set of security threats.

These distractions are too much for one top executive to deal with and help sink the CIO role as the strategic technical leader of the typical company. With technology and business becoming ever more intertwined, many organizations will look to new leaders to bring their businesses forward into today's deeply digital, mobile, social, cloud-based, and data-driven marketplace.

CIOs: Disrupters or disrupted?

Larry Dignan

Each of our debaters delivered fascinating insights into the historic transformation facing the CIO's role. A key difference between Sharyn and Dion is how each views the CIO's relationship to the disruptive forces at play in today's business world. Sharyn talks of "disruptive CIOs becoming agents of change" while Dion describes "external forces disrupting the role of the CIO."
 
So, will CIOs be the disrupted -- or the disrupters? 
 
Sharyn makes a convincing case that the CIO's role is more important and relevant than ever before. I have to go with the crowd on this one: Sharyn gets the win.

Topics: Great Debate

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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