Challenges facing the CIO in 2014

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.
Written by Patrick Gray, Contributor

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?

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