Once again, IT is going away or becoming less important or being relegated to nonstrategic support responsibilities or something. We've heard this tune for decades. It might really happen this time, though -- a consequence not of the cloud or BYOD or any of the usual suspects, but of so many companies being seriously sick.
It's probably true that CIOs have to take IT to the next level or have it fall to a lower one. What is the next level? To recap from last week's Advice Line on the subject, next-gen IT collaborates, widely and deeply, with everyone else in the enterprise. That, in turn, can't happen without a company that (1) does something that matters, (2) has executives, managers, and employees who are committed to making it happen, and (3) has enough mutual trust throughout that whoever needs to collaborate right now can do so without any concerns about the political consequences.
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It requires, that is, a healthy company.
Is IT being demoted? Take a recent commentary by Larry Tieman, who -- unlike many of those predicting such things -- has actual IT credentials and should be taken seriously. He sees such trends as cloud-based infrastructure and SaaS (software as a service) with their highly touted financial advantages leading CEOs to ask why they need a CIO.
He's right that CEOs will ask this question. Not that he's endorsing this logic -- Tieman is, I think, predicting, not recommending, and in this he's probably on target. CEOs will ask, and too many CIOs won't be prepared with a clear, compelling reply. That's a shame because it isn't a hard question to answer.
The cloud won't devalue IT -- at healthy companies
A lot of the discussion about the cloud and how it will make IT go away is about IT infrastructure economics. The fact is, they don't matter a bit. If every bit of IT infrastructure moved to cloud-based IaaS or PaaS environments, the significance for the strategic future of IT in business would be approximately nil, plus or minus 2 percent or so. Nonetheless, many electrons and tiny magnetic domains have been squandered in discussions about this by people who should know better (I'll squander some myself next week in an attempt to end the nonsense, as if there was any chance of that happening).
No, to understand why healthy companies are unlikely to evaporate, demote, or otherwise diminish IT's strategic role, look first at what IT does that matters most -- something that's become so commonplace most businesses take it for granted.
What IT does that matters
IT's strategic value lies in the applications and information repositories it manages, not in the platforms they run on and are stored in. If the cloud is going to demote IT, SaaS is what will do it.
As Tieman points out in the article referenced above, the head of sales can bypass IT, contact Salesforce, and have CRM up and running the next day. With the head of sales as a role model, every other executive will, of course, take similar steps.
CIOs can and should explain this will work out just fine -- if the company wants to return to the 1970s. But if the company values integration -- a task only IT will do because only IT is in a position to do it -- business-silo-driven SaaS implementations are a giant step in exactly the wrong direction.