Generation Tech

Generation Tech

In the not too distant future, the CEO ranks will swell with tech-savvy CEOs who grew up with technology. These CEOs will not only understand the value of technology and how it can deliver competitive advantage, they will be its champion

Reader ROI

  • How the influx of tech-savvy CEOs will impact the CIO role
  • Why C-level relationships will be less adversarial
  • Why the path to COO or CEO will be easier for CIOs

Remember when the services and practices the CIO presided over seemed so arcane that those CIOs might as well have been high priests, officiating over some mystifying ritual intended to raise the dead?

When CIOs were happier wearing a white coat and hanging with their IT buddies in the basement empire-building than mixing with the VIPs on the 18th floor?

And when they could get away with acting like blowhard IT savants who were the fount of all wisdom and whose proclamations couldn't be challenged?

Expect tech-savvy CEOs to demand that the IT infrastructure simply work, just like it has from their home for most of their lives

When said CIOs could snow the boss, safe in the knowledge they could get away with any old nonsense because the boss was secretly terrified of exposing his absolute ignorance of all matters IT?

Not that any of that kind of caper has worked for a goodly while, but could you imagine trying to get away with it when the Baby Boomer CEOs retire - who could after all be excused for struggling with matters technological - and the tech-savvy mob currently filling middle management roles move up to take their place?

No one can ever completely predict the future, but speculation can be highly worthwhile, so we invited a few people to do just that. And this is a future CIOs should probably spend some time imagining, because for some, the implications on their role will be profound. Our pundits warn us to expect tech-savvy CEOs to demand that the IT infrastructure simply work, just like it has from their home for most of their lives. Woe to the CIO who has a multiple day e-mail server outage under a CEO who has never seen a failure with Gmail, which is built on servers costing half the amount of those in the company's data centre.

But expect CEOs who know their technology also to be more willing to make more and better high-yield investments in IT. That is likely to relieve CIOs of some of the need to educate, and let them shift more effort into research, strategy and solution delivery. Expect also the business to be much clearer and more realistic about what outcomes to expect from such investment, thereby increasing the chances of these expectations being met.

As CEOs march inexorably towards greater IT literacy, the impossibility of blinding them with science will force CIOs to be more accountable for results and less for technology.

Even so, that doesn't mean new-generation CEOs will automatically be IT literate, any more than people who live in houses automatically understand the oversight of a property portfolio; or all people who read a credit card statement can read between the lines of a firm's balance sheet, notes Glen Turner, a network engineer at AARNet.

Instead, the tech-savvy CEO will have to learn about IT, just as they need to learn about property and finance. And the lesson they will learn, Turner says, is the one any self-respecting CIO would long to teach them: that IT isn't about technology so much as it is about project management, about risk control, about service provision.

Recent Butler Group research has indicated that around a third of CIOs currently sit on the executive board of their organizations, with all but a handful of the remainder reporting to a board level director: in most cases the CFO. Historically, says Butler Group research account manager Nick Toft, the relationship between these two roles has been at best wary, and in the worst cases, positively adversarial.

But as the disciplines of IT management and governance improve, Toft believes both the CFO and CIO can benefit from establishing a closer partnership within the organization. Although it may be difficult for some to envisage, forward-thinking organizations are (literally) profiting from their CFO and CIO becoming new best friends, he says.

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

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