The diminishing role of IT and the CIO (?)

The DIminishing role of the CIO

The DIminishing role of the CIOIn a previous article titled The Future of IT & the CIO – Redux of the DoDo I pointed to some survey results that should be alarming to most IT professionals and leaders.

The survey, titled The Future of IT (pdf download), basically argues that the role of IT will diminish in the future.  The survey argues that the IT group will move away from a large centralized function and transition into a shared services model with smaller IT teams sprinkled within business units.  The role of the CIO will also change quite dramatically moving from that of Technology leader to that of either leader of a shared services group or a much more transactionally focus role in charge of IT procurement and integration.

Does that mean IT and the role of the CIO is going away?  Like I said in the previous article, no…I don’t think either role is going away completely but I do believe the CIO role and the IT group must change in order to remain relevant in tomorrow’s organization.

The Diminishing Role of IT and the CIO?

The The Future of IT (pdf download) survey is an eye opener if you take the time to read it.  Once you do, then go read the great stuff that Scott Brinker is putting out today…especially his article titled Rise of the Marketing Technologist.

Scott’s been advocating about the need for marketing organizations to own and manage the technology within the marketing group. Scott writes:

As marketers, you’re already responsible for the outcomes based on such technology. The accountability so widely promoted in digital marketing has you in the hot seat for results. It’s only sensible that you should have full control over the means and mechanisms to deliver those results.

You must be the driver of marketing technology, not merely a concerned passenger. But if you don’t have technical depth, who can help you navigate?

Scott argues for a need for a Marketing Chief Technology Officer (CTO) reporting into the Chief Marketing Officer with strategic technology initiatives for the marketing organization as well as acts as the liaison with the IT group and product marketing teams.

Scott writes the following to highlight the role of the Marketing CTO:

….I am suggesting that technology become one of the vertical pillars of the marketing function — with the marketing CTO as its head.

Resources that used to be begged, borrowed, or bought would instead become a native part of the marketing organization.

Pretty powerful argument for the need to have a strong technology leader within the marketing group.  Scott puts together a very (very) compelling argument for why marketing organizations need to be growing a technical skill set to own and manage their own technology initiatives.

Scott’s article is also an extremely good example of how the idea of IT services are changing within organizations.  Business functions are looking for ways to no longer be beholden to the IT group for all technology needs.  Business groups, like marketing, are needing to find ways to be more agile, more flexible and have more ownership in the technology they use.

Why is that?

Some would argue that the IT group has trouble getting things done.    Some might argue that IT isn’t aligned with the business and describes methods and processes to help IT align better while others argue that it isn’t alignment that is the problem…its the ability for the IT group to be agile and synchronized with the organization.

At the end of the day, the CIO role and the IT group are diminishing in many organizations because they haven’t been able to provide what the organization needs.  It’s as simple as that.

Take a look at Scott’s article again….would the idea of a self-contained technology organization within marketing be necessary if IT were delivering what the marketing group needs?  Maybe…maybe not.

I’m 100% behind the idea of the marketing CTO and have even delivered consulting services as a marketing technologist…but I think there’s a lot of room for the CIO to take a leadership role in this area if they can change the direction and values of the IT organization.

What’s next for the IT group and the CIO?

The diminishing role of IT the CIO has been discussed for many years.

Nicholas Carr wrote a post titled Twilight of the CIO in 2007 that discusses the topic. Harvard Business Review had a similar post in 2002 titled Should you fire your CIO? arguing similar points. More recently, Surendra Reddy is rethinking the role of the CIO in the aptly titled Re-thinking: CIO Role in a 21st Century Corporation. In the The Future of IT (pdf download) survey, the future of the IT group and the CIO is definitely highlighted and discussed.

So…what’s next for IT and the CIO?

Continue to focus on doing business the old way and try to own everything around technology and the business will continue to move past you.  Shadow IT will proliferate.

But…what if you take a different approach?   What if you reach out today to the business to deliver the services they need tomorrow, today.  Reach out and recognize the people and processes that are creating Shadow IT within the organization and start making changes to formalize that shadow function into an IT supported function. Mind you…I’m not arguing that you take over the Shadow IT function…just provide support.

Instead of holding corporate data close to your vest, why not build an Open API to allow everyone within the organization to use data for whatever purpose they need.  Build standards and open access methods to allow technology initiatives to be owned by other groups.

Rather than be the technology police, be the technology ambassadors to the organization. Spend time with each group and understand their needs. Truly understand their needs and goals.

Embrace ideas like Scott’s Marketing CTO.  Reach out to the marketing team and find out what they truly need to get their job done.  If these non-IT teams are looking at growing their technology skill-set, find out why. Find how what you can do to help.

The future of IT is dependent on its ability to be agile, flexible and open. If you can create an IT team that embraces these values, you’ll find that your role as CIO and the IT team’s importance to the organization will grow rather than diminish.

The ability to turn on a dime to deliver what your organization needs is the key to ensuring a strong, useful IT group for the future. You’ll be much more than a the “IT group”…you’ll be the group that allows the organization to grow, innovate and succeed.

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38 responses to “The diminishing role of IT and the CIO (?)”

  1. Scot Herrick Avatar

    While I don’t know where the IT organization should report, I really don’t think it should report to the marketing organization. The reason is that IT essentially implements every business process in the organization. Taking something out of inventory? It is entered into an IT system. Opening a ticket on the help desk? It is entered into an IT system. Completing the monthly financials? It is entered into an IT system. Store a piece of data? It’s part of the 12,000 server infrastructure to manage.

    I don’t think companies have figured out how to get IT to to align better with the business — but I also know the business isn’t willing to pay the huge dollars needed to shift an IT strategy (like get rid of proprietary systems and go to open source), even it makes sense in the longer run.

    What I do know is that IT has to deliver reliable projects and the business needs to more fully understand how IT is the business process integration they have, like it or not. Until those two things happen, it will be tough to argue a position and have it stick. Or, you can argue any position and have it make sense; I’m not sure which is which…

    1. Eric D. Brown Avatar

      Hi Scot – Thanks for stopping by.

      I’m of the mindset that IT has to remain its own organization but IT must be able to deliver successful projects and real value to the organization to do that.

      Business / IT alignment is something that’s been discussed for years and i don’t think anyone will truly get it right. Rather than align with the business, IT might be better served by find a way to be more agile and synchronized with business.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Elliot Ross Avatar
    Elliot Ross

    Good Morning Eric – great thinking piece!

    I agree to a point – now; why is the CIO not assigning the Marketing CTO?

    In my thoughts – IT Leadership has to get out of being an IT plumber and be looking at the next level – which as you state is the standardization and integration of IT to drive organizational benefits.

    In your scenario – the CIO should be the one responsible enterprise architecture, governance – and ensuring that business results are met.

    Having a Marketing CTO that is strategically trying to help marketing – even if it conflicts with other strategic goals will not provide value.

    Thanks and regards!

    1. Eric D. Brown Avatar

      Excellent point Elliot. Why isn’t the the CIO and IT group providing the Marketing CTO role / support already?

      In addition to the plumbing and maintenance that IT will always have to do, there has to be a much more strategic approach to technology.

      If the IT group is providing real value to the organization then the marketing team would already have what they need from a technology standpoint. We wouldn’t be begging, borrowing, stealing and cobbling together third party tools to make marketing technology work…the IT team would have already built a tool box for marketing to use to do the job.

      I think the Marketing CTO is a good idea as long the technology goals of the marketing group are in alignment with those of the overall organization. What scares me most about the idea of each group (Marketing, HR, Finance, etc) running their own IT group is that in a few years time the organization could end up with a whole lot of systems that aren’t integrated.

      That’s where the CIO should step in today…set the standards that allow the organization to use the tools available, whether in-house or in the cloud, to meet their objectives.

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  4. Andrew M Meyer Avatar


    interesting stuff, which is why I love reading your writing. A couple thoughts. Different sized companies have different approaches that will separate more and more.

    One, its a big world, what is true with one company isn’t necessarily true for another. There will be some corporations with CIOs, there will be others where the position should be removed or severely downgraded.

    If a large organization has centralized systems that are customized and differentiate the business, then you have to think a CIO makes sense from a direction and strategy perspective. I think of it this way, these companies essentially have a software company inside of them and the CIO represents that capability at the strategy table.

    Then there are small/agile companies that can take advantage of SaaS/cloud computing. In these companies, three people today can do more and be more responsive than thirty people would have been seven years ago. These companies may well enjoy scale opportunities that will allow them to each the lunch of mid-sized companies.

    The companies that I think will have the most difficulty are those that are caught in the middle. The ones that Scott describes as needing a marketing CTO. To me, a CTO implies a team/mini-empire. A mini-empire without competition. That sounds very dangerous and unnecessary.

    With the presence of companies like Salesforce and other CRM/ERP/BI SaaS products, why should one incubate a mini-monopoly… sorry I mean mini-empire/CTO? You can get two people who know Salesforce, put them in an office in the marketing department and they will be responsive and quickly learn the details and requirements of sales and marketing. That is what you want. But there’s conflict with people who want to think larger.

    Agile is beautifully aligned with small. The smaller the team, the easier it is to be agile and to budget agile approaches. With two or three people, a company can be agile till the cows come home, develop responsive and meaningful systems, take risks that differentiate the business and keep the CFO off people’s back. Start getting into the five to ten to more people on an agile team and there will be conflict with the CFO over budgets.

    Equally, you get more than five or so people and people start talking about being a CTO/mini-empire/monopoly etc.

    That’s why I think the problem will be for mid-sized businesses. Large companies need a CIO and its the cost effective way to go. Small companies (<500) lend themselves to agile/SaaS and all the flexibility, responsive and cost advantages that go along with it. Mid-sized companies, I think will struggle.

    1. Eric D. Brown Avatar

      Awesome comment Andrew – love it when you stop by.

      You are exactly right you know…what works for one, won’t work for everyone.

      When i talk about ‘agile’, I mean agile in the sense of being able to move quickly and respond to change. Agile (the project / development methodology) is quite a different beast in and of itself and can work for projects large and small.

      I think you may be onto something when you talk about the different sized companies taking different approaches too. Will have to think on that one.

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  9. Scott Brinker Avatar

    Hi, Eric. Wow, thanks for the excellent and thoughtful post — and the kind words and great discussion points around my article.

    Your vision for an agile, flexible and open IT department is inspiring. Even if individual departments such as marketing develop their own internal technology expertise, I agree that there is opportunity for an “enlightened IT” team to help them be successful.

    Some of that help may take the form of shared services, consulting, and technical domain expertise. Some of it might take form via shared infrastructure management. And some of it may be coordinating a growing number of initiatives between these different satellite groups.

    In a world where such enlightened IT is offered, but not mandated, and wins the day based on modern merits instead of legacy traditions, I think this could be a tremendous success.

    It’s a big cultural leap though. Wrestling with a separate cultural leap of marketers needing to become more technology-savvy, I’ve come to appreciate how challenging those shifts in hearts and minds can be.

    Lots to think about here. Kudos!

    1. Eric D. Brown Avatar

      Thanks Scott.

      Definitely a big leap for organizations and IT groups to pick up but I think everyone’s in the IT world is feeling like change is coming….if we are able to embrace change and drive that change, then CIO’s can lead their teams into a position that works best for them and their teams.

      Awesome comment…thanks for stopping by.

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  22. "The future of IT is dependent on its ability to be agile, flexible and open", not everyone thinks like this, tho

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  24. James | Employee Scheduling Avatar

    Yeah, as things are moving more web based, you can leave it up to the SaaS to manage the systems; however, you still have to manage the SaaS’s.. if that makes sense?

    1. Eric D. Brown Avatar

      Hi James –

      You are correct…there is still a need for people to manage the IT Services.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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  26. I found this blog article interesting on the future of IT.

  27. @ericdbrown thanks! and thanks again for mentions in your awesome post — The diminishing role of IT and the CIO (?)

  28. […] Eric D. Brown: The diminishing role of IT and the CIO? […]

  29. […] few weeks ago I wrote about The diminishing role of IT and the CIO.  That post struck a nerve with quite a few readers so I wanted to expand on the topic.   I […]

  30. […] en Marketing (es decir, un papel de CMT – Chief Marketing Technologist). O como sugiere Eric Brown, el departamento de TI podría ser más un consultor ágil y abierto para […]

  31. […] IT services/applications.I’ve mentioned the topic before in posts about Shadow IT and the diminishing role of the CIO. I have also argued for a broader role for non-IT groups in managing their own technology […]

  32. @Cavuski Interesting Article for you: Is the role of CIO deminishing?

  33. […] CIO say this. I’ve been saying the same thing for years here on the blog (see my post titled The Diminshing Role of the CIO and IT as an example). If the CIO wants to be relevant in the future, they’ve got to make IT […]