CIOs as Revolutionaries is the fifth of 10 articles I am publishing from the Deloitte Tech Trends 2011 series

CIOs shift from stewards of, to catalysts for, business revolution

For years, technology advocates have called for CIOs to take a seat at the executive table. But the subtext has typically been as a steward of the business. This played well in the paradigm of IT as a support function and cost center, working downstream from the business strategy. This model also made sense for technology investments focused on automating core business processes. CIOs helped usher in waves of technology advancements, using ERP, client-server and the internet to drive efficiencies. It was about automating what the business needed to do – doing what the business had normally done, but doing it better, faster and cheaper.

More recently, companies have invested in automating what the business needs to know – information automation – increasing the visibility of information as a critical strategic asset for decision, action and even direct monetization.

In 2011, CIOs need to be more than business stewards, and potentially more than strategists as well. That’s because cloud, social computing and mobility are fundamentally disruptive capabilities, shaking up business models and transforming how business is done. Indeed, the technology agenda is the business agenda, and CIOs are the executives positioned to pull them into alignment.

In addition, the next-generation workforce has radically different abilities and expectations regarding information. They demand and deserve the tools to work effectively, usually in collaboration and not normally at a desk or in an office. These factors have broad implications for what an organization sells, how it engages with stakeholders, how it allows them to interact with each other and how work is performed.

But CIOs as revolutionaries? That may seem over the top, but think of what revolutionaries actually do. They challenge old rules, break up established institutions and overthrow business as usual – in the name of the greater good. As business innovation shifts to the edge of the enterprise, with more finished services delivered from somebody else’s cloud, the old way of doing things is poised for a shake-up.

That said, CIOs can’t rise to these new roles without demonstrating their ability to “mind the store” – improving efficiency, maintaining existing service levels and delivering on traditional business needs. And even then, yesterday’s pressures won’t go away. CIOs are still expected to control costs in traditional IT service areas. But those who can help the business to channel disruptive technologies can move beyond business strategist, translating innovations into meaningful contributions to the bottom line, creating aggressive plans to the future and leading the charge.

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