The Incredible Shrinking CIO

The CIO position is morphing and perhaps shrinking yet again. Outsourcing and the ASP delivery model are changing what a CIO manages. Other groups are poaching parts of the domain of the CIO. It used to be that executives gladly pushed anything that looked remotely like Information Technology (IT) over to the CIO. Not any more.

Should the CIO feel threatened or delighted to be rid of various parts of his or her domain? Will the CIO role shrink or disappear altogether?

The role of the CIO shrinks when other executives engage alternative IT delivery models. Some companies are outsourcing major pieces of the application portfolio to ASP’s like SalesForce.com. In this situation, the VP of marketing signs up with SalesForce.com and migrates the Customer Relations Management (CRM) system there with little or no involvement from IT.

Sometimes Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) occurs on a large scale. In Calgary the large Engineering, Procurement & Construction (EPC) vendors are contracting to build billion dollar tar sands plants. These contracts all include a huge IT component that is treated as little more than an after-thought.

In some companies, the Organization Effectiveness department rolls out SmartBoards to enhance collaboration. In the process, they take over responsibility for collaboration tools like IBM Lotus Notes or Microsoft SharePoint.

Telecommunications and web hosting and perhaps even e-mail are outsourced to a major vendor or a Telco.

In all these situations, the CIO is reduced to the manager of vendor relations at best or becomes totally irrelevant when SalesForce.com talks to the VP of marketing and the EPC engineers talk to the VP of operations.

The role of the CIO is being chopped up and assumed by various vice-presidents.

Technology convergence is whittling away at the role of the CIO by blurring the line between IT and other functions. For example, should a Blackberry that handles both e-mail and phone calls be managed by IT or by the telephony group?

When Office Services replaces older photocopiers with multi-function printers that are connected to the network, the group then assumes responsibility for all kinds of printers. Sometimes the telephony group replaces the Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) switchboard with an IP-capable PBX and then assumes responsibility for more of the LAN and perhaps part of the WAN. Convergence makes it possible for other departments to poach parts of the CIO domain.

Today, the role of CIO takes on widely varying meanings depending on the organization. In some organizations, CIO is a fancy title for IT Manager. The role has quite a tactical focus – keep the infrastructure running and keep the application projects on track.

In some cases, CIO means just Manager of Computing Infrastructure and another person, often with a title like Director of Information Management, is responsible for the strategy and perhaps even the application management part of the CIO role.

In a few organizations, the CIO does not even control the entire application portfolio. Another person, perhaps with a title like manager of technical services, has responsibility for the engineering part of the application portfolio.

The core of the role of the CIO should be leadership in the use of Information Technology. In that context, having other parts of the organization assume a bigger role in the delivery of IT can be beneficial. This diffusion of IT keeps a CIO from taking on too many functions no matter how well-intentioned.

When the CIO’s exercise of IT leadership is seen as invading someone else’s turf or is seen as an annoyance, then the value that IT can produce will be undermined.

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