2013: The year IT may lose its seat at the table

A decade's talk about business/IT alignment and strategic benefit was just talk, and users have taken over

For much of the past decade, CIO conferences, magazine articles, and consultant white papers have been seeking to get IT and its CIO leader treated as an equal in the business -- to get a seat at the executive table, in popular parlance. CIOs and other IT leaders have been exhorted to align with the business and become strategic. I've written my share of such advocacy articles and participated in CIO panels on the topic.

But it appears to have been all talk for most organizations. IT didn't fundamentally change in the last decade -- and has largely lost its chance to claim its spot at the strategic executives' table.

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Sadly, despite all the talk about being strategic, IT's focus in most companies has remained on core transactional and financial systems, and where its role has broadened has been in security enforcement, not enablement. Users had no choice but to live with it -- until a few years ago when PC became common equipment in nearly every home, cloud-based services became cheap and common, and mobile devices became employees' wedges into better business technology.

IT organizations largely resisted, first claiming doom-and-gloom scenarios, then raising security objections they didn't even apply to the desktop. The pace of consumerization only accelerated, as it became clear that IT's claims were of the Chicken Little or Boy Who Cried Wolf variety -- not Cassandras warning of the Trojan Horse.

Today BYOD is the norm at most companies, most knowledge workers use personal cloud storage services to get easy access to information wherever they are and whatever they're using at the moment, most knowledge workers work on their home PCs, a growing percentage insist on using Macs and other nonstandard technologies -- and now marketing organizations are predicted by one Gartner analyst to spend more on technology by 2016 than IT departments do. Yes, marketing -- a "soft" department that has been steadfastly ignored by most CIOs who instead aligned to the hard-numbers CFO.

IT is being moved away from the executive table where CIOs have so long wanted to be given a seat, after not taking advantage of the chance to earn a copilot's place in the business, which it had earned after the technology wins of ERP and e-commerce a decade ago. If IT ever had a chance of being strategic, rather than a support department like facilities, that window is closing fast. Even IT's new center of power -- security -- is at risk; I'm privy to a a major consulting firm's upcoming report advising that information security be removed as an IT-managed responsibility, and I hear similar thoughts from other consultancies and analyst firms.

As technology has become ubiquitous and part and parcel of most employees' work, segregating it into a separate department makes as much sense as having a Department of Electricity -- which many companies did a century ago before public power grids were established and reliable.

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