In 1986 BusinessWeek Magazine ran a story entitled “Management’s Newest Star:  Meet the Chief Information Officer”.  Corporate IT had arrived!  No longer would we be locked in dark basements doing our work in relative obscurity.  The business community recognized the importance of IT and the need to use technology as a strategic resource to drive the company to new heights.  From the basement to the penthouse!

There are few companies today that do not run on a technology foundation.  In fact, Gartner declares “Every budget is an IT budget.  Every company is an IT What happenedcompany.”  Technology is empowering customers and driving companies toward new processes, products, services, and even business models.  It is disrupting entire industries and causing changes in societal behavior.  It seems obvious that the pace and impact of technological change are accelerating.  In fact, 86% of CEOs say that technological advances will transform their business by 2019.

Back in 1986, the future looked very bright for the CIO and the corporate IT department.  Today we seem to be at the beginning of a virtual technological tsunami driving momentous change.  This should be a glorious age for the CIO and corporate IT! 

Yet the calls for IT transformation are growing stronger and more frequent.  We see predictions that the CMO will soon be spending more on technology than the CIO.  We witness an increase in shadow IT and technology spending outside the IT budget.  We see new C-suite roles emerging – such as the Chief Digital Officer, the Chief Data Officer, and the Chief Innovation Officer.  And these new roles are taking on duties that previously had been considered the domain of the Chief Information Officer!  There is a growing recognition that the traditional role played by the CIO and corporate IT is insufficient for the brave new world ahead.

“A real leader faces the music even when he doesn’t like the tune.” (Arnold H. Glassgow)

So what happened to the new star of the C-suite?  How did the CIO go from being heralded as a key member of executive management to a role whose importance – and perhaps even existence – is being questioned?  And at the same time, how has corporate IT gone from recognition as a critical part of the corporate future to being viewed in some companies almost as a necessary evil?

In many companies, the CIO position never truly became a strategic role.  These companies merely promoted their current IT manager/director to the CIO position because that was in vogue.  These CIOs were not normally accepted as equals by the rest of the C-suite.  One study found that only 17% of CIOs are members of the executive team.  Many other C-suite members questioned the value of involving the CIO in strategic discussions at all.  This seemed to arise from a historical view of IT as solely a back office function – perhaps somewhat akin to facilities management.  “We rarely involve our facilities manager in corporate strategy.  Why then would we involve the CIO?” 

Many CIOs and IT departments have not involved themselves in the business.  Instead of seeing themselves as banking or manufacturing professionals with technical expertise, they have considered themselves to be technical professionals who just happen to be in banking at the moment.  As such, they have not truly learned the business nor are accepted by the rest as full partners.  In addition CIOs have often struggled to build relationships with others in the C-suite.  They have found it difficult to help others understand the business value to be gained for the cost.  All this has often turned IT into a cost center staffed by order takers.  When this occurs, the primary focus of the C-suite becomes controlling and cutting the IT budget rather than exploring the additional value IT can bring.  While everyone understands the need for technology, they are not quite so sure about the corporate IT department.  Hence, “The executive team often holds little expectation of the CIO.  This is a risk, both for the CIO’s role and for the business.”  (Ernst & Young).

Let’s realize that the game has changed.  “IT as we know it is dead.”  We used to talk of IT transformation in terms of aligning with the business, becoming more service-oriented, and helping the business understand the value of technology.  While these are still very important, it isn’t nearly enough anymore.  Innovation and creativity are rapidly becoming the ticket.  Corporate speed and flexibility will likely be the difference between the winner and the has-been.  None of this can truly be achieved without technology.  While IT has often been seen by others as the roadblock, it must become the driver.

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” (Peter Drucker)

In upcoming blogs we will address how IT can and must transform itself.  In the meantime, ask yourself:  “Do I have the courage necessary to truly drive the transformation of IT and my company?”  Will you be the leader that your company needs?    Will your IT department become the differentiator your business needs, or will it fade away?  The answer may not be the same for each company, but right now, in many ways, the choice is up to you. 

You can make the difference!

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