Why the traditional CIO role is withering away

Tech management is now a top priority for any corporate leader...

The interest corporate leaders are now paying to technology can mean only one thing: the days of the CIO role in its present form are numbered, says Mark Kobayashi-Hillary.

The end of the year is always busy, and I'm still recovering from it even though we're into February. When I look back at my diary, I can see one week where I attended two book launches, got married and also squeezed in a couple of gigs before emigrating to Brazil. Busy, to say the least.

The book launch events were for my wife, Angelica Mari's, new book: Reboot: Leading IT in the Information Age. She gave a talk about the book, but I'd rather just focus on my own take on its key theme - the future of IT leadership.

It's something that affects many readers of silicon.com. Even if you are not at leadership level in the industry, I'm sure you can see that things are changing. But change has always been the proverbial constant in IT. Is the role of the modern CIO really changing at a more fundamental level?

Technology underpins service delivery

I believe so. The modern IT leader knows that his or her organisation depends on IT, whether it is an airline, a retailer, or a government department. It is no longer just a device to increase efficiency. Technology now underpins service delivery across all industries and in both the public and private sector. Many industries now have a minimum expected service level that could not be delivered without IT.

Businessman: Decisions about information strategy are likely to be part of the CEO's role

If decisions about information strategy are more integral to an organisation, they are likely to be part of the CEO's role
Photo: Shutterstock

So the traditional role of the CIO is almost certainly withering away. If the decision about an information strategy is becoming more integral to the functioning of an organisation, then it is more likely to be a part of the chief executive's role - or the responsibility of a different type of manager altogether, such as a head of services.

So we might finally be seeing the day dawn when IT leadership is truly integrated into business leadership. Remember all those decades of 'the business versus IT' advice, how IT teams needed to learn about the business to get on? Well it seems we have reached the inverse situation, where business leaders are learning about IT - and the possibilities it offers.

If this all sounds fanciful, then think just for a moment about the way IT is consumed by an organisation. It was once the case that the office basement was filled with kit, all managed by an IT director or CTO. Eventually the strategic significance of information was acknowledged and the CIO emerged, controlling a more general technology strategy.

Increasing popularity of outsourcing

But the increasing popularity of outsourcing means fewer IT departments are still operating with their own resource. More often than not, the IT function is being bought in from a supplier because it's cheaper or just more flexible than maintaining inhouse teams.

If I think back to when I was working in the City of London in the early 1990s, it was still common for trading floors to be full of programmers who were on the payroll of the bank - and adjusting Excel sheets on the fly to tell traders how much money they just earned, or lost. Now those trading-floor programmers are almost certainly employed by an IT firm contracted to the bank.

So the need remains for someone to plot an information strategy and to manage and co-ordinate a group of IT suppliers, but is this co-ordination role really a board-level appointment anymore?

To me, it looks like the days of the present-format CIO are numbered, because technology management is now one of the top priorities for any corporate leader. It's now the CEO running technology because technology runs the business.

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary is the author of Who Moved my Job? and Global Services. He lectures at London South Bank University.