Challenges facing the CIO in 2014

Challenges facing the CIO in 2014

Summary: The last 12 months have brought dramatic change for IT and the CIO role, and this will continue into 2014. Here are some of the trends to consider as you plan for the coming year.


With factors like the cloud, BYOD, and big data making waves in a big way, the CIO needs to start reevaluating his or her role. What can you do to make yourself valuable in this changing environment? Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you step into 2014 and encounter some big changes.

Lights-out IT

IT outsourcing is nothing new, and companies have been turning over bits of their infrastructure and staffing to third parties since the dawn of IT. What's interesting is that a confluence of cloud computing, better offerings from service providers, and improved technology is making the idea of 'lights out IT' possible for the first time. Rather than hiring someone else to staff the department and maintain the applications, boxes, and wires typical of the average IT department, it's now possible for a fully functional corporate IT department to have a handful of staff and no real infrastructure beyond networks and end user devices. With BYOD, IT can even exit the business of maintaining end-user devices, and the CIO can exist in a purely strategic role, effectively purchasing all utility functions from another party.

The continued rise of the CMO

While IT spending for major ERP and supply-chain initiatives has largely become a thing of the past, Marketing is emerging as a major technology buyer. Marketing has become deeply dependent on technology as its tasks have shifted from major mass-marketing campaigns to highly tailored, data-driven 'engagements' that occur continually. It's worth taking some time to understand the trends in marketing and sitting down with the CMO, since he or she may ultimately be setting the IT agenda in 2014.

The next great talent migration

If you lived through the dot-com bust in the early 2000s, you saw IT staff who once switched employers looking for a better deal quickly cowed by fear of losing their jobs. Many were willing to work through nearly anything, and we saw record productivity gains with minimal pay increases in the following years.

A confluence of cloud computing, better offerings from service providers, and improved technology is making the idea of 'lights out IT' possible for the first time.

There's already a resurgent startup industry poaching the best and brightest developers, and if the economy can finally shift out of neutral in 2014, talented IT staff are likely to be in high demand. Employers whose workplace and HR policies seem to take a page from a prison camp will suffer the most.

Intriguingly, high pay is generally not the most important factor for employee retention: a rigorous and transparent evaluation process, obvious paths for career progression, and interesting work are all low-cost ways to keep your best people. It's worth vetting your policies and ensuring that you retain your best people when better times (and better offers to your employees) finally arrive. Alternatively, if your IT shop is a great place to work, there may be some opportunities to poach top talent while the economy remains flat.

Does the CIO matter?

It's been a decade since Nicholas Carr published Does IT Matter, and this is a question every CIO should ask him or herself each year. While seemingly a bit flippant, the availability of managed services and the viability of lights-out IT make a purely utility-oriented CIO increasingly irrelevant. The days of striving for high uptime numbers are now an expectation rather than a cause for recognition, and increasingly complex technologies like big data build a case for hiring outside expertise and bypassing internal IT directly. Consider how your IT department, and you as CIO, are perceived by your peers. Are you the technical plumber called in to connect the dots after the key strategic decisions have been made, or are you a trusted source of guidance and insight that helps to shape your company's future?

Topics: CXO, The Battle for the Soul of IT

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  • I have to disagree...

    Companies / Corporations, at least the smart ones, use IT to differentiate themselves from the competition and with the cloud, there is no differentiation. If a company wants to be another "me too" operation then "the cloud" is a great way to do it.
  • IT is not just infrastructure

    The underlying premise of much of this article is that the identity of an IT department and/or CIO is somehow based on running infrastructure per se. That view is both extremely narrow and quite outdated. There's a lot more to running IT successfully than firing up a few servers and keeping them running; in fact, it's the necessary intersection of BOTH strategy and operations focus that makes the job fascinating, and difficult.

    My point: the new (or really not so new) answer is that INFRASTRUCTURE per se doesn't matter, but having a successful approach to bolting together systems and business processes and change management in an era where technology choices are exploding for all: all of that makes the CIO (and IT) matter more than ever. Referring to IT as "technical plumbers" is the vestige of a bygone age.
    Peter Kretzman
  • I vote the plumber

    Most IT Departments I work in have been the IT Plumbers.... They are too scared to innovate and I am reminded of the military saying..."UNODIR" or 'unless otherwise directed'. Most CIOs follow this path these days. CIOs have become a race of IT Accountants, extremely timid creatures with no drive or will to lead or imagine because being an IT Plumber seems safe, and safe doesn't get noticed or sacked.