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Blog: The Disappearing CIO

Blog: The Disappearing CIO

Are businesspeople set to subsume the CIO role? Are CIO mentors at risk of badly letting down the mentorees who aspire to follow in their footsteps? Are CIO-aspirants from within the ranks of IT doomed to disappointment?

Data Agility founder and managing director John Neville sees signs that all of the above may be true now or about to become so.

Neville, who speaks to plenty of business folk in major and mid-tier organizations as head of a company helping companies leverage their data more effectively to improve business performance, points out that many CEOs still consider IT a 'black art'. IT is a very broad discipline, but seen as a specialist profession, he says: just look at how many titles get applied to the IT role.

And his experiences all suggest that with generational change, the role of the CIO might disappear altogether once business unit heads start doing the IT.

The trouble is, Neville says, the better CIOs do on aligning IT with the business the more they pave the way for non-IT people to take over. And while CIOs themselves are highly professional, aspiring CIOs from within IT's ranks are largely not.

"You wrote an article a while ago about the expansion of the role of the CIO," Neville told me recently. "I suppose where I'm coming from, I'm seeing as much the other way, where nontechnical people, non-IT people, are taking over IT, and for a couple of reasons.

"One is that the more successful we are in aligning business and IT, the less specific knowledge people see as being required for IT. And the other reason is the lack of some talent, so businesspeople are respecting business views more and more, when it comes to IT decisions. It appears from a number of our clients that the technical argument is not that important at the moment; the business argument is far more important when it comes to IT decision making and management of IT."

A profound lack of skills in the marketplace doesn't help. Meanwhile, Neville says, CIOs let their staff down if they don't constantly push them on professionalism.

"One of the things that I find in the IT industry is that while we like to be called professionals, not a great number of people in the IT industry act like professionals. If you take a lawyer or a doctor or an accountant, these people spend an awful lot of time making sure that their skills remain relevant, making sure that they continually train and educate themselves, and a lot of people in the IT industry don't do that. They tend to want to sit back and be sent on training courses if somebody pushes them down that path, but they don't tend to do a lot of professional development themselves. And I guess I'm worried that if IT people don't become professional in their attitudes, then the business community will overtake them.

"I am recommending that they ought to be pursuing further professional development, whether it's additional education or broader skills, they've got to continue to be experts in the technology domains that they play in, and they've got to continue or participate more in the industry itself."

Will IT degrees disappear to become a stream within an Accounting, Engineering or Architecture degree? Will people who cut code eventually go to TAFE instead of uni? If the IT industry was structured more like the building industry it would be far more effective, Neville believes. As the industry evolves, it should structure itself so that specialist functions can be provided by specialist organizations. The IT industry is not yet mature enough for this model.

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