Rethinking the CIO in the New Data Environment

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    No doubt enterprise IT technology will be vastly different in five years’ time. We’re not just talking about better, faster, more flexible infrastructure, but a top-to-bottom overhaul of what data infrastructure is all about and how it should be architected for the new digital economy.

    But what gets lost in the whirlwind of activity surrounding the cloud, modular infrastructure, mobility and all the rest is how this will change the day-to-day operations of the data center, and in particular the responsibilities of the IT staff and the skillsets required to fulfill those responsibilities.

    We can start with the CIO. Traditionally, this position is served by someone steeped in technical knowledge and the careful relationships that must be maintained between the various layers of the IT stack. (Yes, there is much more to it than that, but in general terms this is good for our discussion.) But as Mike Altendorf, CEO of systems integrator Conchango told, a technology background will become steadily less valuable as things unfold, and more traditional business-minded skills will rise. These include not only budgeting and management, but marketing, customer relations and even sales as IT becomes more integrated with the business side of the operation.

    By the same token, however, the CIO, and IT in general, need to understand that they do not have sole responsibility for IT infrastructure anymore. The people actually using it will become increasingly empowered with design, provisioning, deployment and other functions. As tech writer Joel Shore notes on Enterprise CIO Forum, the cloud is putting an end to the traditional server/storage room, where nobody is allowed in without IT’s approval. So the CIO will need to prove his worth to the organization by fostering greater interaction with users and delivering solutions that contribute directly to the bottom line.

    One of the chief responsibilities of the emerging CIO will be alignment, according to “CIOs in the Lead,” an e-book released by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by NetApp. This means not only incorporating IT as a strategic asset in the business model, as opposed to a support function, but fostering an environment of mutual cooperation and business fluency across the organization’s digital footprint. Ideally, all business units, all employees in fact, should bear equal responsibility for a successful transition, but in reality the impetus must come from IT: It is easier for the CIO to learn what makes the business tick than for business units to understand IT.


    But far from diminishing the role of the CIO and IT in general, the current transition will actually enhance its stature because the success or failure of the business model will depend increasingly on how well the organization leverages its data assets. According to IT consultant Phil Weinzimer, a more strategic-minded CIO not only fosters innovative approaches to information and technology, but then leverages them to increase revenue streams, open new markets and develop new business models. Again, it is the overall value that IT brings to the organization that is important, not the novelty of its technology.

    In many ways, this will be the toughest aspect of the transition to dynamic, distributed architectures. Technology can always be made to conform to legacy environments and emerging architectures alike, but people can be stubborn. Retraining will certainly help, but on a more fundamental level, the CIO of 2020 will need to adopt an all-new mindset regarding IT and its purpose to the enterprise.

    I won’t go so far as to say today’s generation of upper echelon IT executives cannot rise to this challenge, because I do in fact believe old dogs can learn new tricks, but it is really the mid-level executives who need to start thinking long and hard about this. They will be the ones in charge when all the changes happening now come to fruition.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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