AWS, Salesforce conferences highlight CIO conundrum

We're on deck for two weeks of all cloud all the time. Cloud, outsourcing etcetera may just be excuses for a lack of CIO influence.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

The next two weeks of tech conferences can be boiled down to one phrase: Cloud computing. Another thread worth noting is whether CIOs and their departments will increasingly become irrelevant due to the cloud.

Amazon Web Services will kick off its Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas. Last year's AWS powwow was an inaugural voyage that highlighted a broad customer base and plenty of C-level types running around. This year's AWS event will be much larger.

The general theme from Re:Invent will revolve around how maintaining a data center just doesn't make a lot of sense anymore. Infrastructure as a service is the way to go and AWS is racking up case studies everywhere.

Salesforce's Dreamforce conference follows the AWS gathering a week later. Salesforce will talk social, cloud, mobile and being a customer-centric company.

Behind all the headlines coming from Re:Invent and Dreamforce will be the changing role of the chief information officer. One of the big debates of 2013 has revolved around whether the CIO is relevant or does the chief marketing officer really hold the tech purse strings. Perhaps the chief digital officer---a post with a limited shelf life since all companies will be digital in five years anyway---will be the belle of the ball.

In the end, I'm not sure what C-level really becomes the big tech cheese. I'm willing to bet that there will be enough CMO tech screw-ups and poor implementations that the current love affair will wane. If the tech baton gets passed around enough the CIO will have to be back in favor at some point.



One thing is clear today though: The CIO role and its influence is murky and cloud computing is a big reason why. ZDNet and TechRepublic have examined this battle for the soul of the IT department in depth. The special report highlights how the CIO is being squeezed on multiple fronts. Cloud computing is just one area. Here's the problem: CIOs need to connect dots. A computer science background may be a limiting factor in making those connections.

Ponder the excerpts from our report:

Michael Spears, CIO at NCCI Holdings, says that although in five years time the CIO position will be at least as influential as it is today, CIOs need to do more than ever to earn that influence. "There have been endless debates about whether the CIO should be more of a business person or more of a technician. You must have skills in both areas, but I believe it's more important to engage as a business person. Shadow IT in other departments is a good indicator that the balance has shifted in the wrong direction. Cloud, outsourcing etcetera are just excuses for lack of influence. If you are more of a roadblock than an enabler, it's time for a change."


According to statistics, CIOs have less than a one-in-five chance of having a seat at the top management table in their own company. It's not that these highly-motivated, hard-working people are not deserving of the honor. It's simply that no-one else at the table has the slightest idea of what they're talking about.

Truth hurts for CIOs. As your perusing the Re:Invent and Dreamforce conferences in the next two weeks it will be very interesting to note the customer composition. Surely, Dreamforce will have a bunch of chief marketers as well as CIOs. But don't be surprised if the AWS target market broadens too.

Add it up and there are a bevy of tech buying influencers out there, but everything is in flux. When it comes to tech buying we're all playing a game of pin the tail on the C-level.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 9:00am in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm ET on Sunday in the US, 11:00pm Sunday in London, and 6:00am Monday in Singapore. It is written by one of ZDNet's lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the United States.

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