Ignorance is bliss for CIOs

man_sleeping_at_deskI have written and spoken a lot recently about a growing gap between the capability of CIOs and IT functions, and the needs and expectations of the rest of the business. In Mind the gap, I explained how this difference has developed and why we need a new model for IT that meets the needs of businesses in the digital age. I also explained why this new model needs to be radical in order to close the gap; it has to be as disruptive as the technologies that have highlighted the need for change.

Gartner is also talking about the gap, which is it describing as a “crisis in IT leadership”. In his opening speech at the annual Gartner Symposium in Florida at the beginning of this month, Peter Sondergaard, Gartner SVP and Global Head of Research, cited a recent Gartner study to highlight the expectations gap between IT and the rest of the business. A survey of business executives, including CEOs and CIOs found that half of business executives thought that IT delivery needed to improve while only 10% of CIOs said they have a delivery problem. That is some gap and it emphasises just how out of touch with the rest of the business many CIOs and IT functions are becoming.

The Gartner findings are consistent with a report published in August by Accenture. This study, which was based on a global survey of CMOs and CIOs, found that over a third of CMOs said that IT deliverables fall short of expectations. And, as further evidence of the gap, almost 40% of CMOs stated that IT’s development process is slow and not aligned to the speed of digital marketing and that IT prefers to build solutions itself instead of integrating best-in-class technologies.

So what is stopping CIOs from addressing the problems and closing the gap between them and their C-level colleagues? The Gartner statistic would imply that many CIOs are not even aware that it exists. They appear to live in a state of blissful ignorance, unaware of the fact that they and their departments are becoming less and less relevant to the rest of the business. It is no surprise therefore that we regularly see headlines declaring the end of the CIO role when CIOs themselves do not appear to recognise there is a problem.

And it is also why we are seeing the emergence of the Chief Digital Officer role, which is essentially filling the void left by the majority of CIOs that have not evolved to meet the needs of the digital business. Sondergaard notes that “outdated roles, responsibilities and organisational structures” are hampering CIOs’ efforts to capitalise on digital opportunities, although he also adds that CDOs will “help CIOs and their teams move more quickly and deliver more innovation.” I suspect this may not be the case. The majority of CIOs and IT functions are stuck with ways of working, structures, etc, that are remnants of the mainframe, PC and client-server ages. This model of IT will not be able to deliver what CDOs need and certainly not in the timescales it is required. So rather than helping CIOs, CDOs could well expose them further.

Ignorance may well be bliss for many CIOs but it will also be career limiting and potentially career ending. Gartner believes that the CDO role will cease to exist by 2020 as, according to Sondergaard, “digital skills will be pervasive throughout the organisation.” If CIOs do not adopt a new model for IT this prediction may not come true. It could be the CIO and the IT function that cease to exist by 2020, replaced by an evolution of the CDO role supported by a business-focused technology team that sources and manages the technology services needed by the business. This is the role that CIOs and IT functions should be performing in the digital age. But they will only get the chance if CIOs acknowledge that the gap exists and that a new model for IT is needed.


  1. I wonder how much of that discrepancy is due to the lack of managing service perception. It’s not to say that service provision is right, but you need to manage the way it’s seen as well as the service itself. In my experience it’s something that the logical nature prevalent in a lot of IT management dismisses as “soft stuff”… Wrote about this some time ago: http://mmitii.mattballantine.com/2010/07/01/implementing-the-client-experience-model/


  1. […] take an example frequently discussed in the media:  CIOs being unaware that their departments are becoming less relevant to the rest of the […]


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