Disrupt IT – one year on

DisruptIT front coverA year ago I published the book Disrupt IT in which I defined a new model for IT that meets the needs of the digital business. The book also described seven principles that provide CIOs and Boards with a framework for building the IT capability their organisation needs to succeed in the digital age.

The book has been well received by technology leaders, consultants and industry commentators throughout the world and it has repeatedly been top of Amazon’s bestseller list. I have had very positive feedback from people that have read the book and it has an average rating of five stars on Amazon. I have also been asked to give a number of keynote speeches about the book and run workshops for CIOs based on the new model and the seven principles.

And where there has been some debate about the content of the book it has primarily been about specific details – such as how technical, or not, the CIO needs to be – as opposed to any fundamental disagreement about, or objection, to the new model or the general thrust of the seven principles.

And certainly no one has disputed the fact that the CIO role and the IT function needs to change; the basic model for IT has barely changed in the last 20-30 years. Most IT departments still operate as an internal service provider with a high proportion of technical resource focused on building, maintaining and supporting solutions. These departments have an inward focus, spending most of their time and resources on running and improving existing systems and business processes. Whilst this will always be an important role for IT, the rest of the business has shifted its focus from using technology to automate, control and improve existing processes to using technology to create new business models, products and services, and to enhance the customer experience. To stay relevant CIOs and IT functions need to shift their focus as well. And this is why Disrupt IT calls for radical change.

So a year after Disrupt IT was published what has changed in the world of corporate IT and how has the role of the CIO developed? If you believe the headlines, survey results and analyst perspectives then very little has changed. CIOs still appear to be out of step with their C-suite colleagues (see Are CIOs running out of time?) when it comes to understanding their value to the organisation and how their colleagues in the C-suite perceive them.

One of Gartner’s main themes for 2015 is that CIOs need to “flip their leadership styles to grasp the digital opportunity.” In other words the focus areas, behaviours and skills that have served CIOs well over the last five years are not what they will need to become digital leaders. The good news is that, according to Gartner, 75% of CIOs are aware of the need for change. But Gartner has also reported that CIOs are now spending more time on running day-to-day operations than they were in 2011. So there appears to be a difference between the theory and the practice.

The article The definition of insanity discusses how CMOs view their IT functions. It makes worrying reading for CIOs with an increasing number of CMOs saying that IT’s deliverables are below expectations and that IT is too slow for digital. CMOs are also more frustrated with the IT department’s desire to build its own solutions rather than integrate best-in-class solutions from vendors. The net result of this growing frustration is that more CMOs are saying they would rather deal directly with vendors and without involving their IT function.

There has been a lot of noise about the CIO-CMO relationship and its importance to becoming a successful digital business. There is of course a lot more to digital than marketing but this is where most organisations are seeing the effects of digital first. As the digital wave washes over other parts of the organisation, other functions will start to experience the same frustrations with their IT counterparts and CIOs face the prospect of being bypassed as more functions opt to deal directly with vendors. Unless of course the CIO can transform the IT function and change the perceptions their peers hold about them and their contribution to the organisation.

These examples do seem to indicate that CIOs are not heeding the warnings and advice being offered to them about the need for change and the nature of that change. But the type of transformation I describe in Disrupt IT takes time; for some organisations it will be a multi-year programme. But this is all the more reason to start the process now; the challenge is only going to get bigger and the longer CIOs wait before acting the greater the risk that they will not be given the chance to lead that change. If CIOs continue to ignore the research and the real-world evidence about the need for change then they are very likely to find their roles being sidelined, diminished or removed altogether. The need for change is becoming urgent; it really is time to disrupt IT.

If you are a CIO that wants to reposition their own role for digital or who wants to create an IT function that meets the needs of a digital business then please contact me or visit my website, axin.co.uk.


  1. Brinley Platts says:

    Hi Ian

    Another excellent post.

    Fancy a catch-up? I’d be happy to update our common interests and look for more collaboration opportunities.

    Regds – Brinley

    Brinley Platts | Chairman | CIO Development …………………………………………


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