FRAMINGHAM (03/15/2000) - The seers in our industry are trotting out a new set of predictions, proclaiming the death of the IT department, the obsolescence of the CIO role and the liberation of the IT resource to the business executives (and professional services firms) who are its rightful guardians.
Sound familiar? It should. We've been down this path before. The arguments are familiar too:
1. Business people are more involved with technology strategy and decision making and will soon take it over.
2. CIOs are too busy keeping the business running and too set in the "old economy" ways of working. So companies should outsource their leading-edge stuff to professional services firms or bring in a hotshot "new economy" player to lead development efforts, separate from the office of the CIO.
3. Technology will become as pervasive as electricity, which itself had a chief officer overseeing it in its early days.
The new twist is e-commerce. As large, entrenched organizations see their markets being gate-crashed by dotcom upstarts, they are panicking. They're looking for salvation and have lost faith in their own IT departments to help them find the way. After all, they say, didn't they just spend millions of dollars and about a dozen internet years on Y2K, which added no value to the company at a time when the velociraptors were closing in? (Who cares if it was a real threat!) Here's why their assumptions are wrong:
1. Business people have learned a lot about the opportunities of technology, but few really understand its still-increasing complexity. Business decisions that depend on technology cannot be made soundly without this understanding.
2. The basic rules of outsourcing still apply: You don't give away what is strategic or at the core of your business. And at a time when the need for integration within the business and across value chains has never been higher, it makes no sense to separate the decision making for external and internal information systems.
3. The "IT as utility" folks continue to miss the fact that we're still on the upward slope of technology complexity. The analogy between information technology and electricity is silly.
So what do CEOs want? When you listen to what they say they are looking for, the description sounds remarkably like...a CIO! The people who are calling it something else are doing so not because the needs have changed (someone who understands how these new technologies and technology-enabled opportunities fuel the business), but out of a dissatisfaction with past results. This shift in semantics should be a wake-up call to any IT chief who's not leading the discussions about how his or her company can leverage the internet and any new technologies that change the terms of competition.