Oh I See! Getting CIOs to view their jobs from a different angle

Feb 21 2012   7:18AM GMT

Re-skilling for future: The adaptive CIO

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

Every so often I read about the CIO role becoming redundant or the exigent need to adapt to the changing world. These thoughts and hypothesis are triggered by some disruptive trend in enterprise IT or conclusions arrived at by some research house or professor based on their data. A lot of discussion and debate ensues with many CIO rebuttals and an equal number running scared to save their positions. Is the CIO placed in such a fragile footing that can be dislodged with such ease?

So I started some research of my own reaching out to many peers to find out if they know anyone within their circles extending all the way to the famed six degrees of separation who was ousted due to any such tech or social trend which creates the hoopla. Spanning the globe and attempting to create correlations between technology lead trends and CIO movements, over the last year I have not yet found even one occurrence. My conclusion was that there could be two hypothesis based on the data.

The irreplaceable role?

First, the CIOs took the challenges in their stride and integrated the disruptions in their own ways into their ecosystem. Depending on the industry, geography, size, market standing, profitability to name a few attributes, the CIOs adapted to the change and created equilibrium. Not too many CIOs of today are from the COBOL / Mainframe era, but many have traversed from Client-Server and 14.4 kbps modems to the current multi-screen hyper-connected mobile world.

The second hypothesis is that all the propaganda is created by attention seeking paranoid people who either want to make some money out of selling prescriptions to cure the nemesis or just hate the CIO. Umpteen attempts are made to sell their version of snake oil; and unfortunately a few end up succumbing to the FUD factor. This adds fuel to the noise until a new black swan is found and the cycle repeats itself.

An invisible evolution

Every role evolves with times; the triggers differ depending on the role. In the same period in which the CIO role evolved, the CFO role too changed from pure accounting to treasury management, compliance, and investor relations. No one discussed ad infinitum expectations or created models for change. In fact, some CFOs also transitioned to becoming CEOs and so have a few CIOs in recent times. The factor by which pages have been filled with advice for the CIO to the CFO would surprise even the most outrageous guesstimate.

Darwin’s theory of evolution applies to every species; the same applies to a role or function too in the corporate world. Everyone has to adapt to change; for survival the species has to learn to embrace the new environment. Like the CFO did, the CIO has learnt to thrive in the chaos, sometimes revelling in it. Recent economic upheavals endowed the role of change agent on many CIOs. A few exceptional ones who did not live up to the challenge withered away into obscurity.

I believe that irrespective of the theme of the month, season or year, the perennial skill that will always stand good with every CXO is dexterity with business. Whether it is the internet, mobile, social media or commerce, micro- to nano-blogs, fads will come and go. Enterprises and businesses will acclimatize to some, sidestep a few, and struggle with the rest. The adaptive CIO will endure the onslaught, the unyielding will fade away into ignominy. The choice is there to make.

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