Technology is increasingly being purchased and consumed by the business rather than by the IT department. It's a trend that has led a number of experts to believe that the CIO will struggle to survive. They see the only answer for IT leaders is to take an operational view and to become more involved in line-of-business activities.
But isn't it inherently naive to suggest that the CIO role is on the way out? Who will manage remaining enterprise IT assets and who will provide a strategic take on the technology and applications of the digital era? We ask five IT experts for their views on the future role of the CIO.
1. Deliver smarter IT for the business
With more than a decade of IT and finance leadership experience at Carphone Warehouse, Matt Peers is now CIO of consultant Deloitte. And he is adamant that the suggestion that the CIO's career could soon be over is flawed.
"Never has the role of CIO been more pervasive," says Peers. "There's nothing in business now that does not involve IT. But that central role is not about bits and bytes. People have talked for ages about being customer-friendly - and IT is now finally about enabling people to serve customers."
The economic downturn has created a tough environment for an IT leader hoping to secure investment for new projects. But conversations, says Peers, have moved on from cost to a desire to deliver something smarter for the business.
"The sensible CIO looks at how IT can benefit the business as part of a wider range of changes," he says. "Cost to value is crucial and the CIO must recognise that IT needs to provide transparency to the board. The business will not mind spending money on IT as long as the value is clear."
2. Become the digital expert for strategy and data
Trinity Mirror IT director Steve Walker is unconvinced that the CIO role is about to die out. What he actually envisages is a change in the day-to-day role of the IT leader as consumer technology is adopted as part of a wider enterprise computing strategy.
"There are always extremes and the truth will be somewhere in the middle," says Walker. "The changing nature of technology means there'll be a convergence between home devices and enterprise software, with a consequential impact on the role of the CIO."
Walker says the CIO is likely to remain as the person best placed to answer challenging questions about business concerns in a digital age. "There will always be specific questions that need to be answered about strategy, security and intellectual property," he says.
"We have to protect consumer data and these things need to be managed by an expert. Without controls, systems and applications tend to go wrong."
3. Put your foot down and prove your worth
Hakan Carlbom, CIO at finance firm EQT, says the role of technology continues to change and is being accompanied by a transformation in how IT is perceived across the business. The technical prejudices of 10 years ago are disappearing as the IT market continues to generate innovations.
However, evaluating all this potential is a tricky task. And it is a challenge that a good CIO will be able to overcome easily. "Someone needs to put their foot down and make a good call on behalf of the business," he says.
"Sit through a tough IT contract negotiation and any business executive will be able to see the value of a good CIO. You need an expert to help the business avoid making IT mistakes."
Carlbom says this expert, given how legal compliance is becoming a mainstay of the IT leader kitbag, has to be the CIO: "It's tremendously tricky to integrate systems and that's how CIOs can differentiate themselves from other executives."
4. Converge consumer expectations with enterprise resources
The implicit suggestion that the CIO's career is over is "too simplistic", argues Phil Everson, former interim CIO at Deloitte and now leader of its IT effectiveness team. Unlike the centuries-old nature of financial management, IT leadership is still a very young discipline and needs to develop strongly through the new age of consumer and cloud-based technology.
"Consumer expectations have outstripped the ability of corporate IT to deliver the right types of hardware and software during the past few years," says Everson. "The next five years will be about converging those two themes - consumer IT and enterprise IT - back together."
Everson believes the CIO is ideally placed to deal with that type of convergence challenge. In fact, he goes as far as to suggest that the recasting of the importance of IT in a new collaborative business setting provides a fantastic opportunity for the CIO.
"There is no more exciting time to be a CIO than right now, and that includes the dot-com boom period," he says. "We're still on the wild frontiers of IT management - it's very early days. CIOs cannot afford to become pessimistic about IT as a profession."
5. Be proud to have reached the top of your profession
John Casserly is director at Xceed Consultancy Services. His experience leads him to conclude that, rather than being on the decline, the rise of on-demand computing means a great technology chief is more important than ever.
The CIO role is on the rise, he says. "When it comes to C-suite responsibilities, the IT guy typically fits under the finance executive. But the significance of technology is such that systems and services now show up as a huge asset or cost on the balance sheet. Other executives are now coming to the IT department for inspiration."
Casserly says the cloud is actually a potential saviour for the IT department, helping to prove to other executives that good technology is the underpinning of any modern business. He thinks the future for CIOs is bright, and IT leaders should be proud to reach the top of their profession.
"Why would you promote the best IT guy to run the business?" says Casserly, referring to fears that the CIO role represents an executive glass ceiling. "IT professionals should be proud to reach the highest possible technology position. You should be proud to have reached the pinnacle."
Mark Samuels is a business journalist and editor at IT leadership organisation CIO Connect. He has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Government Computing and Times Higher Education.