Given that enterprise IT regularly underreports cloud application adoption by 10x, it's easy to come to the conclusion that the CIO is irrelevant. This is a mistake. While it's clear that open source and cloud computing have enabled a new generation of developers to get stuff done without involving Purchasing or Legal, it's less clear that developers and the lines of business they serve are completely sidestepping IT.
In fact, according to new Forrester research, business and IT are doing less in isolation and more in partnership.
Overstating shadow IT?
First open source and now cloud computing have freed lines of business from having to depend on IT to deliver new business functionality. While newly hyped, the trend isn't new: back in 2012, a PricewaterhouseCoopers' Digital IQ Survey found that among 100 of the companies PwC then ranked as "top performers," IT controlled less than 50% of corporate technology expenditures.
It's also not really an "us vs. them" situation. According to a Frost & Sullivan report, 83% of IT workers admit to using non-approved SaaS apps, compared to 81% of line-of-business workers. Actually, it's worse than this. According to the same report, 26% of IT departments use six or more non-approved SaaS apps; just 7% of business units use that many.
Clearly, it's full steam ahead on the shadow IT train, with IT leading the way toward freedom from its own cumbersome policies. Unfortunately, such freedom comes at a cost. Rogue open-source or SaaS applications can increase security risks while also potentially running afoul of regulatory requirements. Additionally, there's a reason IT exists in the first place: it turns out that an "every developer for herself" mentality can significantly complicate ongoing maintenance of enterprise code.
Joined at the hip
The world isn't about to end, however. Yes, Forrester reveals in its "Understanding Shifting Technology Acquisition Patterns" research note that lines of business are taking on a greater role in technology purchasing, removing IT from the purchasing process in 6.3% of new technology purchases in 2013, rising to 7.2% in 2015, while IT-only purchases will fall from 23.7% (2013) to 21.6% (2015).
But this obscures the far more important trend: a steady partnership between business and IT in technology purchasing, maintaining a steady 35.4% (2013) to 35.8% (2015), even as the cloud booms and open source continues to rise in importance.
Yes, we're absolutely seeing lines of business take on greater responsibility for technology purchases: technology purchases where the line of business initiates the purchase and then includes IT is projected to rise from 9.0% (2013) to 10.4% (2015), up from 8.0% in 2009.
But no, this doesn't translate into the imminent demise of IT. Instead, we're far more likely to see increased partnership between the two groups, even if the line of business shoulders an increased burden for initiating technology purchases.
As such, the successful CIO will be the one who helps the line of business manage the purchases they're inclined to make. Rather than set up roadblocks, it seems better for CIOs to stand ready to take the load off the business once an initial direction is set, including negotiating pricing and rationalizing the new applications with existing infrastructure (and security policies).
In this way, the CIO can harness the creativity of lines of business and their developers, rather than try to control them.
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. He is currently VP of Mobile at Adobe. Previous positions include VP of business development and marketing at MongoDB and COO at Canonical, the Ubuntu Linux company.