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As CIO Role Evolves, IT's Never Easy

As CIO Role Evolves, IT's Never Easy

Consumer IT in the enterprise is the new challenge.

Every now and then you hear something different, something coming from a different perspective and a different vantage point. That's when it's time to sit up and pay attention. Recently, two of the most respected individuals in their fields made the following observations:

"I think you'll see a much higher degree of technical focus in the CIO and a higher understanding of technology in business across the C suite. The distinction that we're all so comfortable with -- that there's technology and there's business -- that distinction is going to vanish." That's Google CIO Douglas Merrill.

"The role of the CIO is at a crossroads. CIOs can once again reinvent themselves -- and enhance their standing, influence and contribution to the corporation -- or their role will be marginalized: setters of technology standards, managers of infrastructure...or worse, overseers of a technically savvy procurement shop." That's IBM CEO Sam Palmisano.

When I first read these statements, I immediately wanted to check my calendar because I thought I had gone back in time and was listening to Nicholas ("Does IT Matter?") Carr. Then I started thinking about why these two accomplished men were choosing this particular time to question the CIO's future when to me it seemed that the CIO role had regained whatever creditability it may have lost and has today more than earned its front row seat in the C suite.

One reason I came up with is that the rapid adoption of consumer IT in the enterprise is causing the computing platform to shift under the CIO's feet, pushing him to once again immerse himself in technology and perhaps distracting him from the business of being strategic and driving innovation. A year ago it was rare that CIOs would mention mash-ups, RSS, blogs or wikis, Ajax and APIs as topics and technologies they were focused on. Now it's common.

As Merrill says, "It's very difficult for classic CIOs to understand how to respond in the best way to this consumerization of IT. The nature of risk management is changing from clean cost-flow across technology to clean talent-flow into technology, which is a very different thing to manage." And a new challenge for CIOs.

It is this challenge and opportunity that CIOs will need to address in the coming year to ensure that they don't, as Palmisano warns, get marginalized. Is the CIO once again at a crossroads? I would enjoy hearing your thoughts.

Michael Friedenberg is CEO and president of CXO Media. He can be reached at mfriedenberg@cio.com

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