As we head deeper into 2013, the signs that this year will be unforgiving for napping CIOs are there, lit up in glaring neon. The second week of January saw the collapse of three retail empires - HMV, Blockbuster and Jessops - a demise that many critics attribute to myopia around the business impacts of the internet.
"In the movie rental business, you needed your CIO to give advance warning that the internet and digital downloads are fundamentally changing the sector's business model,"? says Ryan Rubin, director of risk consultancy Protiviti.
"It can be a question of standing up to the board and saying: 'Unless we do something about movie-on-demand and downloads, we're going out of business'."
However Rubin also knows how hard it can be for the CIO to have that conversation and that on some boards it's impossible. "Often the CIO is just not in that position; they are perceived to be there simply to support the decisions of the board," he says. The need to keep a business lookout while keeping the lights on can easily be misjudged and any IT systems failure can result in an inward-looking CIO who fails to see the change coming.
It's a conversation that has been going on from some time and the volume has just been turned up. At the IT Directors Forum last autumn, the keynote speech by Clive White, chief operating officer of consultancy Leading Resolutions, dissected the role of CIO into different permutations of the acronym: chief integration officer, chief infrastructure officer and chief innovation officer, suggesting that the final destination for forward-thinking incumbents is chief influencing officer.
"Technology is both creating and is expected to have solutions to social and political changes on a global scale. The CIO will be expected to have answers, lead many of these emerging discussions, pre-empt and have mitigations available for significant events," White explains. But for the moment, he says, 'CIO' could easily be short for chief insecurity officer as the IT chief is pulled in seemingly opposing directions.
The need for a fresh focus on innovation is certainly a view promoted by Forrester Research. The analyst house calculates that a typical CIO spends roughly 60% of their time managing applications and infrastructure. This could drop to 25% and, in time, reckons Chip Gliedman, vice president of Forrester, "Enlightened CIOs will triple the amount of time and effort currently spent acting as their organisation's 'chief innovation officer'."
Gliedman urges CIOs to push more operational tasks to trusted associates, freeing themselves up to devote more time to business value creation. The time spent working as the chief innovation officer will be more as coordinator and facilitator - driving business value through the greater use and integration of technology - than as operations and control.
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