What is it with the CIO role…

angry man with laptop…that even its very existence seems to be regularly questioned? There is no other C level role that is discussed as much, whose purpose and longevity is debated and doubted in equal measure. As a CIO myself, it is more than just a bit annoying to find one’s profession regularly called into question.

In the last few weeks social networking sites, blogs and websites have yet again been awash with articles, discussions and comments about whether the role of the CIO will still exist in 5 years’ time. This most recent episode was prompted by a survey commissioned by Getronics UK which ran with a headline that the CIO role will “cease to exist in 5 years’ time” according to “almost one in five CFOs.”

Now that could sound worrying for me and my fellow CIOs couldn’t it? Well, it doesn’t if you look at the survey in a bit more detail and then look at what’s happening in the real world. In fact I think you would quickly come to the conclusion that, far from being five years from extinction, there hasn’t been a better time to be a CIO.

Firstly, and apologies for being a little pedantic here, the actual percentage of respondents that agreed with the statement that the “CIO role will no longer exist due to reduced importance of in-house IT” was 17%, which is actually closer to one in six than it is one in five. But hey why let the facts get in the way of a good anti CIO headline?!

More interestingly though were some of the other responses on the subject of how the CIO role will change over the next five years. 47% of respondents (that’s almost one in two!) thought that the CIO will have more responsibility at Board level, whilst 41% (just over two in five) agreed that the CIO will be accountable for more spend in the business. That’s actually a very positive message about the CIO role than the original headline suggested. I appreciate the main purpose of such surveys is to gain as much publicity for the sponsor but leading with such a negative headline about the CIO role does not help our profession. Here’s an alternative, and more accurate, headline: “more CIOs will have board responsibility in five years’ time according to almost one in two CFOs.”

It is also interesting to note that the statement which led to the claims that the CIO will cease to exist attributed this to the “reduced importance of in-house IT”, which is a reference to the growth of cloud based offerings and the belief that these can simply be purchased by any department with little or no specialist IT knowledge. As well as being a misleading and potentially dangerous view of how to procure cloud services, it also implies that the CIO role is concerned only with the internal IT resources. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

For example, selecting and managing multiple service providers is a key element of the CIO role and with the advent of cloud, this actually becomes more important, not less. Successful procurement and use of cloud services requires a range of technical knowledge covering security models, integration with internal or other cloud-based systems, understanding when to use private or public cloud, negotiating service level agreements, etc.

The CIO is the most senior role in an organisation responsible for the information technology and computer systems that support that organisation’s goals. So, given that the importance of ‘information technology and computer systems’ to any organisation is constantly increasing, why is there such a regular debate about the demise of the role that is responsible for IT and systems? In fact it would be more appropriate to see regular discussions about how the CIO role is becoming more important, more influential, with a higher profile and a wider remit.

In a previous post on Transformation and the CIO I explained why I thought that CIOs were uniquely placed to drive business transformation. Given the current challenging economic environment the next few years are going to provide CIOs with the chance to demonstrate their transformational skills and further increase their influence and remit within their organisations.

And as for cloud, rather than spelling the end of the CIO, it is more likely to strengthen the role. Moving to cloud services where appropriate will free-up resources and time that CIOs can deploy on more value-adding activities. Cloud services have to remain within the CIO’s remit – it’s too important to treat the move to cloud as a simple procurement exercise. But if cloud services are selected, deployed and managed correctly their use will enable the CIO to spend more time on innovation and transformation. And this will see the CFOs’ prediction of increased board responsibility and higher budgetary authority come true.


  1. […] become the CEO! As a CIO myself I obviously don’t agree with the former and in a previous post, What is it with the CIO role…, I explain why I think this view is […]

  2. […] argued against this view in a number of articles on this site. In What is it with the CIO role… I explained how selecting and managing multiple service providers was a key element of the CIO role […]

  3. […] argued against this view in a number of articles on this site. In What is it with the CIO role… I explained how selecting and managing multiple service providers was a key element of the CIO role […]

  4. […] March last year I wrote the original What is it with the CIO role… article, which was prompted by the constant speculation about whether the CIO role would exist […]


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