The idea that the CIOs will no longer be needed in a decade is absurd and it’s time for IT leaders to fight back, argues’s chief reporter Nick Heath

It’s a perennial question, is the role of the CIO doomed? And yet, like the paper-less office, the obsolescence of the CIO seems to forever be 10 years away.

The question of the CIO’s lifespan was once again raised at The CIO Event conference in Wales this week, prompting Kevin O’Connor, CIO for the technologies division of NYSE Euronext, to say that the time has come for people to shut up about the death of the CIO.

“This is the third job that I have had where I was the first CIO in the role and there are still people who think that the role of the CIO is going away,” he told me. “These are comments made by extremely unimaginative people.”

For O’Connor the suggestion that the days of the CIO are numbered is made by people who believe the role involves nothing more than keeping the lights on in the server room, ignoring the critical role that any successful CIO plays in choosing the right technologies and reshaping business processes to deliver the organisation’s core goals. “That is a small part of the CIO role, it is like saying the role of a parent is just about taking your kids to school,” he said.

The reductive argument that the CIO role is equivalent to the simplest part of the job could just as easily be applied to any CXO position within a company, he said.

“A HR department makes sure that people get paid every month, but you don’t say we don’t need a HR department because the secretary can generate the offer letters and payroll is outsourced: that is a small part of the job.”

CIO role

Time to turn the volume down on the argument that the CIO is a dying rolePhoto: floeschie under the following licence

And no matter how much of IT’s complexity is hidden behind packaged cloud services it is simplistic to believe that business has reached a point where board members can match the CIO’s ability to judge what technologies will best serve an organisations’s goals, O’Connor said.

While a lot of people like to think they know a lot about technology because they are avid consumers of gadgets, claiming they can put that knowledge to use in a corporate context is “like watching an episode of Holby City and saying ‘I know how to be a surgeon’,” he said.

But there is an argument to be made that CIOs aren’t blameless for being the Mark Twain of the executive world, constantly fighting off rumours of their demise.

The question mark over the future of the CIO role could be blamed on CIOs failure to define a role for themselves at the top table in business. A recent study by City University London found that more than half of the CIOs surveyed said they had no clear definition of what their role is, and that many considered their responsibilities to often be misunderstood and ill-defined.

Imad Choucair, CIO with Tecom Investments/Dubai Holding, told the conference that this confusion over job roles was peculiar to the CIO: “Many CIOs across different organisations do different things, whereas the CFO across organisations do very similar things.”

Choucair traces this uncertainty back to IT not being sufficiently mature for the role to be given proper consideration when the blueprint for organisational hierarchies were drawn up.

However time doesn’t stand still, and IT is now at the core of almost every business interaction. Any IT leader worth their salt shouldn’t wait for the board to hand them a satisfying job description, but will exploit the flexibility of their position to carve a role for themselves as a strategic asset to the business.

It’s time for IT leaders to stamp out the myth of the disappearing CIO and to start proving to the board that their job involves far more than looking after boxes and wires.

There are already plenty of examples that IT leaders, with their knowledge of the relationship between technology and business processes and experience of running large projects, are well-suited to taking charge of wider business change within their organisation.

If more IT leaders demonstrated to the board the undoubted returns that IT-enabled change can bring to the business then maybe the uncertainty over the CIO’s future would finally go away.