Old-Style CIOs Might Be on the Endangered Species List

For years, in multiple polls, the top concern of CIOs has been the so-called lack of alignment between technology and business units. The idea was that business and IT didn’t communicate effectively and, therefore, lacked strategic cohesion.

There is a shift happening in the IT industry from IT autonomy to collaboration between IT and business units.

Those who got an information systems degree and were looking at a career path ending in a CIO’s position might therefore want to take note of an unpleasant trend: CIOs may be losing power, according to a recent study by Forrester.

According to the firm’s estimate, the amount of control that IT departments have over projects is dropping. In 2009, the “share of IT projects primarily or exclusively run by [an] IT department” was 55 percent. By 2015, that number may drop to 47 percent. Those numbers suggest two things immediately. The first is that companies have stopped trusting IT to get projects right so they work for the rest of the company. The other is that IT had a lot less control over its projects than many might have thought.

Apparently what is happening is a continuing shift from IT autonomy to collaboration between IT and business units. Such cooperative leadership runs more than a third of IT projects today, according to Forrester.

This seems a logical extension of something companies haven’t been able to get right in the past: building computer-based systems that fully did what business unit sponsors had expected. It is also a product of another historical pattern — few CIOs being considered part of the senior management team.

Currently, Forrester says that CIOs still have control over IT budgets. But that may not continue as it is today. Cloud and mobile technology have already begun to wrest technology control away from the IT department. Increasingly, non-IT managers feel free to contract for cloud-delivered services and capabilities that would take too long for IT to duplicate. Bring-your-own-device, or BYOD, programs decentralize one of the main aspects of IT, client computing, down to individual employees. More often, business units don’t need IT’s permission to contract for services they need.

However, that isn’t to say IT expertise is useless. Far from it. Even with obtaining cloud services, there are many things that can go wrong and mistakes that can come back to haunt. Maybe there isn’t enough experience among the non-IT negotiators to look for all the warning signs of future problems. Integration with other systems might be a problem.

The shift is on its way and a return to an IT department that went off and did what it thought was correct is unthinkable. People in IT should recognize the shift and find ways to work with it — to understand the language of business, to recognize that the users know best what will support their endeavors, and, most importantly, to embrace that cooperative influence is true power in a company.