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The end of the CIO! Are you crazy?

First IT didn't matter, and now analysts are predicting the extinction of the CIO. Find out why that won't happen in the real world.

It hardly seems a year has passed since an editor at the Harvard Business Review caused a brouhaha when he stated that enterprise IT was passÉ, over-hyped and would no longer be a source of competitive advantage. He maintained this position long enough to generate a fair amount of critical response and launch a book that takes considerably less aggressive stance on the utility of IT. What else would you expect from one more familiar with media hype than the productive application of technology?

But now we have a spokesman of one of the largest technological analysis firms predicting within 10 years that over 50% of CIO positions will be gone, with the majority of the remaining CIO's acting as nothing more than procurement specialists managing the outsourcing/export of IT functions and, once again, the crash of the IT specialists market. Pundits that proclaim the end of IT organizations point to the growing outsourcing trend, slow growth of IT expenditures, and increasing automation of basic operational tasks. However, we believe that if one digs a little behind such claims one finds the exact opposite -- an explosion of activity which makes technology the prime influencer and driver of enterprise business. Pardon us if we tend to be more than a bit skeptical of these bizarre predictions.

If there is one thing certain in life it is that human ingenuity and technological innovation will proceed in unforeseen and unpredicted directions. IT is far from the end of its technological life-span. It is not even slowing down. Just look at the productivity gains that .Net gives developers or application mapping gives operations. These gains allow smarter IT organizations to spend their time on business alignment projects just as tuning application performance for high-value customers or reporting real-time business intelligence from their B2B website or shrinking service deployment times.

IT organizations that can leave behind rote technology administration and become business technologists can never be outsourced because their value in developing competitive advantage will be too high. For these reasons, we say that the practical and effective application of technology and technological expertise to resolving complex enterprise issues has barely begun.

Sure, the economy and the IT sector took a hit that continues on a localized basis, but business cycles always go up and down (isn't that why we call it a cycle?). Technologists are in an INNOVATIVE and evolving business. The way things get done and problems get solved tomorrow are and will be distinctly different in some ways than in the past. Businesses will always need tech-savvy people to take raw technologies and turn them into differentiated products, to take raw technology performance data and turn it into actionable marketing and sales strategies. This is what CIOs and IT organizations are supposed to be doing for their enterprises.

In the end, all problems inevitably get solved through a combination of technology PLUS process PLUS people Each part feeds upon and depends upon the other. While the skeptics complain about stagnation, business solutions based on emerging technologies are being created and tried, some failing, some succeeding. While the media hypes regulations like SOX, the smarter CIOs are using them to justify resources what they wanted all along -- IT process improvements that improve productivity. While politicians argue about outsourcing, ambitious technicians are becoming technology liaisons for their business units. All this will continue, despite the hypothesizing and fear mongering of academics eager for the attention that drives their revenue model.

Richard L. Ptak is Founder and Partner of Ptak, Noel & Associates. He has over 30 years experience in systems product management. He was VP at Hurwitz Group and D.H. Brown Associates and worked at Western Electric's Electronic Switch Manufacturing Division and Digital Equipment Corporation. He is frequently quoted in trade press and is author of the Manager's Guide to Distributed Environments.

Jasmine Noel is Founder and Partner of Ptak, Noel & Associates. A recognized expert in infrastructure management, Jasmine served previously as director of systems and applications management at Hurwitz Group. She was also a senior analyst at D.H. Brown Associates, where her responsibilities included technology trend analysis in the network and systems management space.

This was last published in October 2004

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