Cloud

Do you need to hire a chief integration officer?

As companies move to multi-cloud environments, some are considering adding chief integration officers to the C-suite. But experts say the job can often be done by the chief information officer.

Ninety-five percent of companies are now using the cloud in some way—and with the transition, some have hired chief integration officers to link cloud solutions with existing on-premise systems.

But does your company need to add this position in order to have a successful move to the cloud? Many experts say a chief information officer (CIO) with a strong vision toward integration can get the job done.

The rise of the chief integration officer is similar to that of the chief digital officer, said Matt Guarini, vice president and research director serving CIOs at Forrester. "If the CIO doesn't have the right skillset, a lot of times the CEO will look at creating a new role," Guarini said.

More than $1 trillion in IT spending will be affected by the shift to the cloud over the next five years, Gartner predicts, making cloud computing an extremely disruptive force. Some 71% of companies are using a hybrid of private and public cloud solutions, according to RightScale.

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The cloud is integral to IT success, Guarini said. "But if you start cutting it up and have this integration officer, it's just going to make the CIO's job harder," he said. "We can understand some of the logic behind it, but from the CIO's perspective, you have to try and think about how you can keep that capability within your wheelhouse."

Integration officer vs. visionary CIO

It should be noted that the title "chief integration officer" is broad, and can encompass a number of different roles depending on the organization, including dealing with company acquisitions—very different from transitioning to the cloud.

"Whatever the arguments for a chief integration officer are in other businesses, this is a vital role in any acquisitive company," said Clinton Lee, a mergers and acquisitions advisor at the Exit Firm in the UK. "Without an experienced hand to manage the post-transaction integration of the two businesses, there is almost no chance of management seeing the increase in shareholder value that they expected."

In the tech realm, "the ability to integrate different elements of an IT organization, to me, is day-to-day operation that sits within the CIO shop," Guarini said. "The real challenge is, is your CIO a visionary or a tactician?"

Many CIOs get caught up working the backend and day-to-day management, rather than creating a strategy for business technology success. "That's when you see companies say 'I don't have a strategic CIO, so I need a digital officer,' or 'We need to move to the cloud and need an integration officer,'" Guarini said. "If you're a CIO, you need to be able to provide that service, and manage it in the transition state."

If you are a CIO who wants to free up time for innovation, one option is to create a role within your IT team that oversees the operations infrastructure. That way, you can take on a more strategic role working with other parts of the organization on new tech solutions.

"There is so much opportunity for CIOs, and for those visionaries who can get in front of new tech and think about how to readjust funding and work with business partners," Guarini said. "There is a path for CIOs to become a leader in the company, not just in IT."

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Shifting employee expectations

Joe Carella, assistant dean of executive education at the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management, compared the creation of chief integration officers to that of chief financial officers a few decades ago.

"Thirty years ago, it wasn't necessarily an expectation that our employees should have great financial acumen," Carella said. "Today, that's changed, and there is an expectation that people understand basic concepts of profits, loss, and managerial accounting. My sense is that we should expect the same when it comes to new technology and the way in which they integrate with one another and with the business."

For example, while marketing officers need to be creative, they also need to know how to manage large volumes of data, Carella said. "Increasingly, everyone in the organization should know where their data sits, how it integrates with the rest of the organization, and, critically, how secure it is."

However, chief integration officers who are brought in as temporary contractors could be important as the organization makes the move to more sophisticated delivery models. "The chief integration officer is probably an important figure in a transition," Carella said. "But longer term, we should expect ourselves and our colleagues to be proficient in the handling of data, no matter where that data resides."

Carella recommends employee training to help people learn about the cloud. And CIOs must have a clear blueprint for the future that they communicate with the organization, he added, though it's unlikely that we are at the final evolution of the cloud and where data will be stored for enterprises.

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Image: iStockphoto/phototechno

About Alison DeNisco

Alison DeNisco is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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