Enterprise Software

Why today's CIOs may no longer be up to the job

As CIOs are asked to take a more strategic role in businesses fresh talent may be needed to take over from IT leaders stuck in an "order taker" mentality.

New blood may be needed at the top of IT departments to meet the changing demands being placed on CIOs.

The primary role of the CIO is shifting, from optimising and integrating packaged enterprise systems to identifying how new technologies can drive business advantage, according to Gartner research VP Mark Raskino.

"For a long time - maybe for two or three CIOs in a row - CIOs have been used to tidy up the mess made in the past," said Raskino, who has co-authored a new report CIO New Year's Resolutions, 2013.

"We've seen very large global ERP integration and standardisation projects. Those took the best part of a decade in some cases but they're mostly done now and I've met CIOs from all kinds of corporations who are saying the big question now is 'What next?'," he said.

What should come next, Raskino said, is that CIOs stop being order takers executing the demands of the board and start advising on the best ways to get business value from technologies like social media and mobile.

"Words like mobile and social are being used very vaguely, they don't describe capabilities or competencies. There's a loss of translation of ideas into action," he said.

"CIOs need to turn back towards being agenda formers as they were in the late 80s and early 90s," according to Raskino before many "got into a pattern of delivering packaged stuff from the industry".

The problem is that incumbent CIOs may not be the best qualified to carry out this more strategic role. Raskino argues that if a CIO was appointed "to spend the five years sorting out an ERP mess, you can't necessarily expect the same individual to become a progressive agenda setter after that," he said.

While some existing CIOs will adapt to the more strategic demands of the job, the high turnover of the post means that there will be a ready supply of new talent to meet this new challenge, he said.

"It's probable that we will start to see CIOs appointed who are being asked from the beginning to be more agenda forming."

Strategic vacuum

The failure of existing CIOs to provide this strategic guidance is creating a vacuum that few other business leaders or the IT industry executives are well-placed to fill, he said.

"The IT industry used to package ideas for businesses very well, that's why we had CRM and ERP. The industry doesn't need to provide that so much any more because a lot of the industry's revenue comes from consumers," he said.

And when it is left to other business leaders to set the technology agenda, they tend to favour strategies that are heavily influenced by consumer technology, which may not best serve business' needs, he said.

"You'll often see demands for tablet computers with scant justification for that," he said.

The failure of CIOs to provide the necessary technology strategy is leading to the creation of new roles to meet this need, he said.

"We are seeing the appointment of people like chief digital officers and chief data officers. It's symptomatic of businesses trying to create an agenda for the use of technology that isn't otherwise happening," he said.

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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