CIOs face downgrade to 'chief plumbing officer'

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CIOs face downgrade to 'chief plumbing officer'

Challenged to align IT thinking with marketing.

Chief information officers in customer-facing industries may need to brush up on their marketing skills if they don't want to be replaced or left with diminished control over IT, according to Gartner.

The warning came after Gartner published new statistics for the tenure of CIOs in Australia and New Zealand, based on a global survey of 2236 CIOs worldwide, including 134 in A/NZ.

The current tenure of CIOs in Australia and New Zealand averages 3.8 years, compared to the global average of 4.6 years, according to the survey.

"In Australia and New Zealand, things are very stable. There's not very high turnover," Gartner vice president Andy Rowsell-Jones told iTnews.

CIO tenure tended to be impacted by major changes in IT strategy or technology. The last major change of this nature was outsourcing, though the relative maturity of A/NZ on outsourcing went partway to explaining the stability in tenure figures.

"If you think back over the past four-to-five years in A/NZ, there hasn't been a radical change in the way IT is being executed," Rowsell-Jones said.

Although it was not showing up in Gartner's statistics yet, Rowsell-Jones saw the impact of social, mobile and cloud convergence as having a potentially major impact on CIO tenure.

"I think we're on the cusp of a rise in the importance of customer-facing Information technology," he said.

Rowsell-Jones believed the "industrialisation" of the customer experience would cause a change in the way the role of CIO is viewed by the organisation.

"There are really going to be two sorts of CIOs - those that get it and could almost be chief marketing officers, and those who do not," he said.

"Those who do not may retain the title of CIO but they're going to be the chief plumbing officer. They're going to be looking after the pipes and the wiring.

"They're not going to be looking after their traditional stakeholder relationship strategy components of the job that they used to do.

"If the market evolves as it seems to be, we'd expect [CIO] tenure numbers to change as the older style technical CIOs are replaced with people who are perhaps more marketing savvy."

Rowsell-Jones highlighted the retail sector as an example of an industry that was being forced to be more "entrepreneurial" in the current economy.

He said the shift in mindset required a similar shift in IT strategy. The "old style of getting systems stable, getting costs out" - which he characterised as "the mantra for A/NZ for the past few years" - had to change in favour of systems development that enhanced customer experiences.

Mobility was a case in point. The Gartner survey found it is the number one IT priority for A/NZ CIOs (overall, number two priority globally).

"If you talk to some of the more traditional CIOs about mobility, their concerns are more at device and data management - minimising risk, making sure data bills are manageable," he said.

"Whereas for most chief marketing officers, and for externally focused CIOs, [mobility is] about influencing buyer behaviour at the point of consumption. Walk past a store, pop up an advert.

"Influencing buying behaviour in a far more proactive way requires a substantially improved understanding of a customer."

CIOs that did not embrace the change in thinking could find themselves replaced by those who do.

"Or the role of CIO will be debased and the head of marketing will take on an increasing proportion of the responsibility for IT development," Rowsell-Jones predicted.

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