Are the Days of the CIO Numbered?


By Tony Kontzer

At the risk of taking liberty with Mark Twain's words more than a century later, it seems my recent thoughts on the possible imminent death of the CIO may not have been so exaggerated after all.

Fresh survey findings from Getronics, an IT services subsidiary of Dutch telco KPN, indicate that nearly one in five CFOs with large companies in the UK believe the role of the CIO will cease to exist within five years. And -- surprise! -- cloud computing, and the changes it's bringing to the relationship between IT and the business, is largely to blame.

Even among those execs who believe there is, in fact, a future for CIOs, more than two in five (43 percent) expect the CIO role to merge into companies' finance departments, while nearly one-third (31 percent) anticipate future CIOs coming from non-technical backgrounds.

In the immortal words of Scooby-Doo, "Ruh-roh!"

Now, before a bevy of CIOs start scrambling for career transition assistance, let's look at factors that may render this survey so much needless doomsaying.

First, let's consider that the group doing the ominous predicting here -- CFOs -- have increasingly become the people to whom CIOs report, meaning CIOs may become top candidates to take their jobs. No potential conflict of interest there, nosiree.

Second, there's the fact that so many of today's CIOs possess broader business skills than their predecessors. CIOs have faced growing pressure over the past decade to have a better understanding of their businesses, and as a result, many have shored up on skills that, frankly, translate better to a future in which IT is really a service-delivery arm that oversees the economics of how those services are procured and optimized. Those CIOs may actually have futures as CFOs (gasp!), or even CEOs (double gasp!), once the dust clears. (Suggested next move for Getronics: A survey showing that CEOs believe all executives below them will be obsolete within 10 years.)

Finally, there's the little matter of the huge investments large companies are making in private clouds, which will need plenty of care and feeding, and which won't do anything to reduce their dependence on the vascular system (networking, telephony, wireless) needed to connect employees to those clouds.

Then again, since so many CIOs now report to CFOs, maybe some of the feedback from the latter ought to be taken seriously -- such as the 56% of UK CFOs who say that lack of integration between IT and finance is preventing companies from achieving the level of cost savings expected on big IT projects.

I'm sure that's just what beleaguered CIOs want to hear: Their career professional status may now hinge on the ability to perform yet another death-defying integration, one the CFO has a direct interest in.

Maybe that career transition assistance isn't such a bad idea, after all.