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IT needs to shift from engineering to 'anthropology' mindset

Much has been said about the evolving role of the CIO. Once considered a strategist, the modern-day CIO is expected to move “into a much more operational role than ever envisioned,” Paul Brubaker and Mark A. Forman wrote in a September 2011 op-ed for FCW.

The changing role is just one element of a bigger, drastically evolving IT landscape. The Corporate Executive Board’s 2010 report The Future of Corporate IT: How to Prepare for Five Radical Shifts in IT Value, Ownership and Role explored the five-year outlook for IT and concluded that “the IT function of 2015 will bear little resemblance to its current state.”

What does that mean, exactly? According to Audrey Taylor, senior director at Corporate Executive Board, these changes mean that many traditional CIO activities will shift  to individual business units, merge with other central functions such as HR and finance or be externally sourced.

“As a result, we see two potential paths for the role of the CIO: expanding to lead a multifunctional or ‘business’ shared services group, or shrinking to manage technology delivery,” she said. However, the end state for federal and private sector CIOs will ultimately depend on the degree to which technology is seen as a driver of agency excellence, and on the skill set of the individual CIO, Taylor said.

Here, Taylor shines the light on the new hurdles future CIOs will encounter, what trends will shape the responsibilities and duties of future CIOs, and why IT will need to move from an engineering to an “anthropology” way of thinking.

Q: What are some new challenges future government CIOs will face?

A: The current emphasis and excitement around big data and other information management initiatives, demand a new way of doing business that is not generally within the ‘DNA’ of traditional IT organizations. Unlike the linear requirements gathering process and traditional SDLC we use to deliver ERP and other process centric initiatives, delivering on projects centered on analytics, decision support, or improving worker productivity require a more flexible, iterative approach based on experimentation and observation. In many ways, IT will need to shift from an engineering to an anthropology mindset – a major challenge for not only the CIO, but their leadership teams as well.

Q: How will the roles of government and private sector CIOs differ or be similar?

A: The question of these shifts impacting CIOs, independent of economic sector, is a matter of when, not if. That said, our view is that the degree of impact will vary according to the intensity of the organizations' use of technology and the degree of diversity of its operations. Departments and agencies where information is central to the mission -- intelligence community, financial regulation -- will see more and quicker impact than those where IT is primarily an administrative support function.

Q: What are some major trends/technologies/events that will shape the future CIO’s role?

A: Across our research, we’ve identified 10 external trends that will impact the IT function. These trends point to a dramatically different way of doing business across the next five years; a critical implication of this is that CIOs need to start now to get ahead of emerging skills gaps. CIOs will need to transform or grow many key roles within architecture and service management, while also sourcing new-to-world roles -- cloud integration specialist, user-experience experts, technology brokers. Developing and implementing effective workforce strategies now will be critical to enable federal CIOs to source and/or retain the talent required to be successful in transforming how they and their agencies do business.

Q: Any duties/responsibilities today that will be obsolete to future CIOs?

A: [There is] no one cookie cutter answer here – although, traditional "doing" roles are rapidly being externalized. If you, as a CIO, are primarily managing infrastructure operations or ongoing software maintenance, start preparing now for a radical change.


Posted by Camille Tuutti on Nov 15, 2011 at 12:19 PM

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Reader comments

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 Greg

I'd argue that there is increasingly less difference between linear, ERP-type process systems and those that are project oriented, with more analytical focus. These two approaches have started to merge, as fact-based decision making is becoming more common in traditional process operations, mainly as a result of 'lean' thinking. Flexible, iterative adaptation of software, based on experiemntation and observation is becoming the norm as organizations move away from historical record-keeping and accounting uses for back office systems.

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