Is the Cloud Killing the CIO?

Written by Bart Nachimow

August 16, 2019

Is the CIO role on its way out? It may be premature to announce the demise of this critical executive function, but cloud computing is definitely threatening it. At the very least, the cloud is pushing significant changes to the CIO’s job description. 

What’s Happening with the CIO in the Cloud Era?

Companies are circumventing the CIO more and more. According to the 2019 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey, almost two-thirds (63%) of organizations allow technology to be managed outside the IT department. When companies go around IT, that almost always mean working with cloud providers such as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution.

At the same time, corporate datacenters are shrinking. A CIO’s key role had traditionally been to manage digital assets in the data center. He or she had direct budgetary control over where applications ran in their companies, what got updated and when.

This control, which is necessary because the CIO is also accountable for the delivery of IT services, contributes to a sometimes-tense relationship with business stakeholders. Business managers might feel as if they were constrained in terms of business technology, or at least by implementation timeframes. With the cloud, they don’t feel this way. Lines of Business (LOBs) can pay for cloud service directly. In many cases, the CIO is engaged to supervise the process, but is not in control. Often, though, the CIO is completely absent.

The shift of arranging for cloud-based IT services without involving the IT department is reducing the CIO’s budgetary influence. Before, any IT spend had to flow through the CIO. In some cases, the CIO has no involvement. Other times, the CIO is consulted, but not in control of the budget allocation process.

The Cloud, the CIO and IT Strategy

Cutting the CIO out of the loop is often a mistake. Yes, it may speed things up, in superficial terms. There are some serious risks to the practice, however. Someone in the organization needs to take responsibility for a company’s information assets. That has traditionally been the CIO. If anything, dispersing digital assets across the cloud creates more, not less, need for a person in this leading management role.

As companies contemplate major initiatives like mobile workforces, Internet of Things (IoT) and digital transformation, the CIO is often the best-positioned and most knowledgeable person to serve in a leadership role. Even if he or she is not hands-on with the hardware and software, the CIO can be the “cloud consultant in chief.”

Consider the issues that arise when a company moves some of its business-critical IT to the cloud. This decision will affect data storage, system availability, backup, disaster recovery, compliance, security and more. The CIO can formulate and then execute an integrated approach to addressing these factors.

Partnering with the Business in the Cloud

Today, in a cloud-first world, the CIO has to partner with the business to drive growth through technology. That tech might be cloud-based, on-premises or hybrid. The hosting is not what matters. Success comes from knowledge, experience and management ability.

Being a CIO can be challenging in a cloud context. The CIO must now possess legal expertise and corporate financial skills as well as skills in data management, vendor and partner management and project management. He or she also needs to be competent in compliance and security. The CIO’s role in the cloud era is to prepare teams for change, leading the charge to migrate to more modern platforms. He or she has to have a vision and be able to realize it.

Whether you’re a CIO or an LOB executive, now is the time to align with the cloud for business transformation. The cloud provides the platforms and capabilities. The business and IT leadership need to take the initiative and partner for success using the exciting new tools.

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