This blog was originally posted in Forbes’ CIO Central on August 3 as a contributed piece. Read the original post.
Four disruptive forces are causing executive teams to reconsider how the CIO function will add strategic value in a world where cloud computing, distributed architectures and mobile ubiquity are givens for future competitiveness.
Rising Server-to-Admin Ratios
When 25 physical servers for each IT admin was the norm, CIOs built organizational structures suited to that reality. Hiring, training, reporting lines, compensation, key success factors, annual reviews, career advancement and social norms were all built around that 25:1 ratio. Now, enterprise IT is facing the near-term reality of ratios that are 100:1, 500:1 or even 1,000:1. Google is rumored to be aiming for a 10,000:1 goal.
This massive increase in administrative density signals wholesale changes in the enterprise IT org chart. It changes who is hired, what skills they must have, how they will be trained and managed, evaluated and compensated, how they interact with and support business units, and what their long-term career paths will look like.
IT Becomes a Variable Cost
In the early 90s, when the CIO title was gaining popularity, the chief driver for bringing IT into the executive suite was the massive capital allocations required to give organizations a competitive advantage through rapidly changing technologies. These technologies demanded larger and larger percentages of the corporate budget, so a direct line to the president or CEO was paramount in justifying these spends.
Cloud and next-generation IT strategies dramatically change this. What was once CAPEX increasingly becomes OPEX, and long-term risk falls accordingly. So, where’s the strategic value in having IT in the executive suite? Arguably, it’s more important than ever.
The increase in business agility and responsiveness that cloud computing makes possible shifts the strategic value of the CIO from a technical role to a business role. CIOs must understand the functions they support, so they can help these functions quickly put the infrastructure and applications in place to support quickly moving new ideas to market, testing them, and iterating them to general release. Competitors will be doing this (and already are, in several industries).
End-User Auto Provisioning
End users are gaining a level of power that makes past demands for integration of Blackberries and iPhones seem whimsical by comparison. CIOs accustomed to pushing back against new ideas based on security threats and support burdens will increasingly find themselves cut out of the deal by end users who can go online and provision SaaS (software as a service) and IaaS (infrastructure as a service) with a credit card.
As Vivek Kundra, until recently the White House CIO, has said, “the more a CIO says ‘no,’ the less secure his organization becomes.”
Infrastructure Becomes Commodity
New — and largely uninvented — processes are required to deal with all of this change. Governance, compliance and security are all matters that 20 years of client/server policy is ill equipped to deal with. On top of this, CIOs must develop policies for the rapid growth of collaboration technologies (and, yes, social media) that employees will increasingly require in order to do the job the CEO is asking of them.
These shifts signal the need for the new CIO to bring an entirely new set of skills to the game. Yes, the new CIO’s job will continue to require an understanding of infrastructure and architecture, but a knowledge of how to turn the dials and knobs will be far less important tomorrow than it was yesterday. Tomorrow’s winning CIO will bring an MBA’s understanding of finance, marketing, operations, HR and the other functions. CIOs will understand how to say “yes” to new services that make their companies competitive, while mitigating risks and allowing for small-scale failures in the pursuit of long-term success.