Management Strategies

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Technology Rising, but CIO Influence Falling?

Is CIO influence on the rise in this era of technology as the answer to everything, or is it declining because deep technical expertise just doesn't matter as much anymore?

This is a quiz: Are CIOs in the insurance industry on their way up or are they on their way down?  The answer is at the end of this column -- whatever you do, don’t skip ahead! 

It’s been fashionable for some time to think of IT as an egalitarian phenomenon: a great equalizer where all technologies are ubiquitous, easy to command and use, and where one need not be a technical wizard to get the most out of any technology. In the insurance industry, it has likewise been fashionable to imagine that this will all somehow lead to the end of IT departments as we’ve known them, and that this development necessarily means that the influence and power -- however that is defined -- of the CIO will wane over time. 

In a recent survey, Forrester Research analyzed the shifting landscape for CIOs in project, purchasing, and personnel decisions. In the survey, it found that the share of IT projects under the sole purview of IT was slowly but surely declining, from 55% in 2009 to a projected 47% in 2015. The survey also indicated that the shift to collaborative IT decision-making was on the rise, indicating that business people are and will be increasingly involved in where the IT spend happens in their organizations.

To be sure, nothing in the survey is meant to definitively indicate that CIOs live on eroding platforms in their organizations. However, the results of the survey could be interpreted as further evidence that CIOs are losing their primary positions as the de facto business technology decision makers. 

So which is it? Is CIO influence on the rise in this era of technology as the answer to everything? Or is CIO influence declining in a technology world where deep technical expertise just doesn’t matter as much anymore?  Well, it’s neither

[Previously from Petersmark: In IT, the business should always be the winner.]

The truth is that most CIOs have never been the sole decision makers for IT investments of a particular amount and for a particular business need, nor should they have been. Done correctly, big investments have always been something negotiated, if not quite collaboratively, between CIOs and their business colleagues. In fact, those CIOs who have made themselves an island of IT investment decision-making in the past are more than likely not around anymore, and they may have saddled their organizations with the kinds of best-of-breed platforms and systems that will never completely serve the needs of the business. "Technology for technology’s sake" decision-making is why many insurance companies are in the mess they’re in with systems that don’t play nicely with each other in terms of problematic integration, poor data quality, and lack of process efficiencies. 

A more effective approach is exactly what savvy CIOs have been doing for some time.  As personal technology devices have become more consumer-friendly and consumer-understandable, it has naturally followed that insurance business people have grown incrementally more comfortable with extrapolating their newfound mastery of personal technology devices to their organizations.

And while the dots don’t fully connect between personal and enterprise-level technologies, consumerization has given CIOs the opportunity to engage their business colleagues in more full-bodied discussions about the organization’s technology needs and desires. This contributes to overall IT transparency with respect to costs, complexity, and credibility. And as difficult as it can be from time to time for CIOs to hear people ask, “Why don’t we have this?” and “Why don’t we have that?” it does give them the opportunity convert such questions into good conversations about what is and what isn’t possible in their organizations. 

On balance, this a positive development, as adversarial negotiating on IT expenses should be evolving into collaborative negotiation. Over the long term it should evolve to shared accountability and perhaps even shared responsibility for strategic IT expenditures and initiatives. At least that’s the hope.

So what is the answer to the question posed at the start of this column? Well, as it turns out, that depends on the CIO’s point of view. If you want to be an IT tyrant, holding a tight fist on IT decision-making and investments, then as a CIO you will find yourself on the way down. However, if a more collaborative decision-sharing model is your thing, and especially if you are willing to have your ideas become the ideas of your business colleagues, then you are most certainly on the way up.  

[Do you aspire to the C-suite, or some other spot in upper IT management? Then bulk up your credentials around today's most pressing IT movement, digital business, at the InformationWeek IT Leadership Summit.]  

Frank Petersmark is the CIO Advocate at X by 2, a technology consulting company in Farmington Hills, Mich., specializing in software and data architecture and transformation projects for the insurance industry. As CIO Advocate, he travels the country meeting CIOs and other ... View Full Bio

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Nathan Golia
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Nathan Golia,
User Rank: Author
9/16/2014 | 2:14:51 PM
Ways to beat the trend
Thanks Frank. One way CIOs can beat this trend is to own innovation in their companies. Sure, the marketing guys are swallowing up tech spending and rapidly adopting new tech, but there's no reason a CIO can't take that mantle as well.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Author
9/16/2014 | 12:54:44 PM
IT/Business partnership
Good to see the Forrester survey indicating more collaboration between business and IT. The more I hear about the benefits of that partnership, the more it seems integral to increased tech investments and business growth. Hopefully we'll continue to see the two working closely together. 
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