There's a theory to the effect that the role of chief information officer will soon go the way of the dodo. Computers are no longer new and scary. We've allowed them to migrate from businesses and colonise our homes, pockets and purses. We've let them into our cars and even caress our wrists. As a result, society is saturated with information. We handle our own information flows now, often with our own devices.
We no more need a chief information officer than we need a "chief telephone officer" or a "chief electricity officer", said Clayton Hubner, consultant and former CIO, at a conference convened by Harvard Business School Publishing. "A decade from now, companies' understanding of how to use information to enhance business effectiveness will be more ubiquitous, and you won't hear about the CIO anymore."
The conference was called "Burning Questions 2002".
Hubner's 11-year-old prediction — not that we should blame Hubner alone, of course — refuses to die.
The latest incarnation of this zombie meme is the idea that we don't need CIOs anymore because the chief marketing officer (CMO) and chief operating officer (COO) and all the other C-folk are becoming information officers themselves. They can go to the cloud for everything they need — and they'll do exactly that if the CIO continues to be the naysaying "C-I-No", according to Brian Lillie, CIO of Equinix, the world's largest provider of network-neutral datacenters and interconnection services.
The CIO can no longer simply be the one who decides which technology comes into the company, and the circumstances in which it comes. But that doesn't mean CIOs will vanish, Lillie told journalists in Sydney on Thursday.
In fact, CIOs will be doing pretty much what they've always done. They're the ones with a holistic view of the entire organisation's information assets and the potential risks to those assets.
There'll be new twist, though. Instead of the customisation and integration of massive bespoke systems, CIOs will be overseeing the process of patching together a dozen disparate and doubtless rapidly evolving cloud services.
"It was such a silly model when you think back on it, and we're still doing some of it, where you bought someone's software, you put it in, you customised the s*** out of it, and you really customised it to where nobody was really happy, but you could run your business," Lillie said.
"Salesforce just blew that away, saying, 'Sorry, it's good enough. You can modify it around the edges, but it is what it is'," and the same goes for all the other cloud services. "I still have to integrate, and I have to bring it into some sort of platform."
The need for this coherent world view is strongest in customer care organisations, yet traditionally, that's where data integration has often been the worst.
"Customer service staff have to deal with it all... They've got to look at the customer data. They've got to look at financial data to give them a credit back on something. Then they've got to look at inventory. What does that customer own? What are their entitlements? Can we submit a ticket?" Lillie said.
"In every firm I've been in, that's the dumping ground, the application boneyard."
Customers are kept on hold while staff copy information from one system to another — often having to re-type it, thanks to inconsistent data formats such as telephone numbers being formatted with or without space, with or without hyphens, area codes with or without parentheses, and so on.
That need for integration won't disappear into the cloud. But it will be transformed by that other buzzword: Mobility.
"More and more, we're putting our apps, even our core business apps, on mobile devices. So then you have to control the mobile devices, so then that drives MDM [mobile device management] solutions. People are living on these devices," Lillie said.
People now expect decent usability on mobile devices, so that puts another pressure on CIOs.
"They want us to become UI designers. What they want us to build is a custom app, almost a composite app, for customer care that takes all this data but puts it in an iPad-like format," Lillie said.
"To me, this [is] another role where the CIO can add a lot of value. [It's] not only integration, but actually writing apps that are built for mobile platforms, that are much more in the user experience that the users, with the consumerisation of IT, are used to... Nobody's going to build that for you, and somebody has to be in charge of the information."
All of which sounds completely sensible to me, but it does raise one question: Who's going to be building all of these slick, easy-to-use mobile apps for the new-style CIOs? Not your traditional enterprise IT department staffers, I'd say.