The end of the CIO as we know it -- and IT feels fine

Fifteen years after it became a top-level job, the CIO notion no longer makes sense in the emerging post-IT world

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CIOs seek to new glory days
Progressive CIOs wanted to do more than manage systems, compliance, budgets, and security. As the recession lifted, they again cast about for a strategic role, leading to all those proposed roles mentioned earlier.

That search continues because there's no need at most organizations for a CIO who runs all technology, all information, all innovation, and so on. Information and its use belong to the business units, as they always had -- being digital doesn't change that.

Innovation and technology belong to everyone; arguing that because technology is pervasive a CIO should manage it all and everything that runs through it is like saying that facilities should manage all work done in the buildings and furnishings it provides and maintains.

There's a reason that CMOs are predicted to have bigger tech budgets than CIOs by 2017: Good marketing requires extensive information collection and analysis, and good marketers know what information to get and how to use it to make money -- not their CIOs or IT departments. (If there is to be the role of chief digital officer, it will be part of marketing, a person who specializes in analyzing "gray" issues like human behavior via data and connecting it to sales and marketing programs.)

It's often argued that because IT has a view into most of the company's operations, it is in the best position to strategically manage those operations. That's foolish; if it were true, companies would need only IT departments, as product designers, marketers, salespeople, and so on would be redundant to IT. Not all tech systems need to be governed and integrated across multiple departments, though some do -- those are the tech systems IT needs to handle. But it's not at all clear that requires a CIO; an MIS director should suffice for the task at most organizations.

CIOs who believe managing technology means they should manage the company should look to their CFO and COO colleagues, who have similar overviews of the entire company, yet don't manage or direct it all themselves. The CFO and COO positions have been around much, much longer than the CIO's; if such horizontal roles were able to manage the entire company, they'd've already done so. (In some businesses, where information is the business, a CIO can strategically manage the company just as COOs in manufacturing companies often strategically manage their companies -- ditto with CFOs in companies where money management is the business.)

The rise of consumerization -- meaning a broad swath of technology-literate employees who know their subject matter very well -- has also reduced the need for IT to get involved in many day-to-day operations. The training wheels are coming off, and the notion of IT-as-coach is less necessary.

I see a post-PC equivalent movement happening to IT overall, and thus to the CIO. Call it "post-IT." Just as post-PC isn't the end of the PC, post-IT is not the end of IT. But something different is being formed, and straight extensions of the past IT model -- the broad but specialized operational department -- should not be counted on.

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