Is the role of CIO still relevant?

Moderated by Larry Dignan | November 18, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (23:00 PST)

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 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

Talkback

13 comments
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  • Time for Line Execs to Pickup IT as a Tool

    It's way past time for line executives in business to pick up IT and use it like any other business tool in their bag of skills.
    DarthVaderMentor
    Reply 41 Votes I'm for No
  • CIO Relevance?

    I'm not sure that the CIO position was ever relevant. But, if you assume that it was, then it is no longer. It never had the same status as other C-level execs and it shows.
    khess
    Reply 34 Votes I'm for No
    • Our CIO is also our Vice-President of IT.

      In a research-university environment, data is your most valuable asset and it needs to be the responsibility to a high-level executive to see that your data is safe.
      M Wagner
      Reply 26 Votes I'm Undecided
  • Have we been nuked to the stone ages?

    Have we been nuked to the stone ages?

    If not, then who will manage the technology?

    Call it CIO, call it something else - you'll always need somebody to manage the tech as long as technology exists.

    My guess is this debate will ultimately boil down to how you define "relevant." Not that I expect any definition to be reasonable: ZDNet does crazy redefining English words. They've already defined "dead" to be something well beyond any dictionary definition.
    CobraA1
    Reply 55 Votes I'm for Yes
    • It's not just about managing the technology. It is about protecting ...

      ... the DATA! As long as the data is still there, the technology to access it can be rebuilt but without the data, your organization's very reason to exist can be lost.
      M Wagner
      Reply 34 Votes I'm Undecided
  • I have to co with Sharyn on this one.

    I work in a university IT department and the sheer volume of data found in an academic environment is absolutely staggering. In addition to vast research datasets, which might be stored almost anywhere on the Internet but for which your CIO is ultimately responsible, student information as well as financial data must be protected and accounted for - particularly in a public institution.

    The large commercial enterprise is no different. There is proprietary data (trade secrets, if you will) which must be protected for commercial reasons as well as vast amounts of customer data.

    The very fact that 75% of organizations which suffer a catastrophic loss of data never recover reminds us of the important of protecting the data. It is a tremendous asset and once lost, so is the trust once imparted on that enterprise by its customer, clients, and its constituents.

    It is important to keep in perspective that a great deal of responsibility falls on the shoulder of your CIO and the position should not be treated lightly.
    M Wagner
    Reply 37 Votes I'm for Yes
  • CIO role obsolete now

    I have seen the damaged brought on by a former CIO [terminated in less than his three yr. contract].
    He was replaced and all IT functions were outsourced to **M.
    The company is now almost bankrupt.
    N4110XPS8700
    Reply 34 Votes I'm for No
    • obsolete?

      The outsourced company doesnt have a CIO?
      the positions are just changing of place, the CIOs may be not part of your company now, but the positions are open in the cloud companies, thats evolution not extinction. Does any body knows about a cloud company or even a bank or financial entity without a CIO (or any other related name)?
      luis.herrera1974@...
      Reply 7 Votes I'm Undecided
  • The more things change, the more they stay the same

    Cloud is really outsourcing, which is old as IT. Organisations still need the single client view - a DB history of thier dealings with each of their clients. That DB needs to be accessible, maliable, and secure.

    Other execs don't have the time to sit and do the analysis and thinking, they need a CIO to do it for them. The ones that charge off and go it alone pay the price down the line and the other execs learn thier lesson.

    All that has changed really is the options available to the CIO are more varied than what they were before. It is even more important now that CIOs engage with thier stakeholders early, when ideas are still a twinkle in thier eye. Offer solutions, not problems.
    NZO893
    Reply 22 Votes I'm for Yes
  • Promotion is in order!

    Flabbergasted that this is even a question in the interwebs era! Every product is connected. Those who eschew modern technology (yes, there are those who still prefer green screens and command lines to graphical wonderland) are doomed to the scrap heap of business history! If anything, CIOs should be made the CEO. They alone have the full scope of knowledge of how a modern business operates. They alone can unleash the full potential of their companies!*

    I'm off to query my rep for a status update on my Microsoft CEO nomination. Laterz!

    * It must be noted that a truly modern, enlightened OS is vital to this end result.
    Techboy_z
    Reply 27 Votes I'm for No