Artificial IntelligenceCryptocurrencyMetaverseCybersecurityTech Forward

Yes, you do need a CIO. And here’s why

July 1, 2015, 12:14 PM UTC
Folders and pens on meeting table
Photograph by Getty Images/Blend Images RM

There’s been a lot of talk in the past few years about why chief information officers are becoming irrelevant.

Corporate developers provision their own stuff. Department heads sign up for their own software services. Employees bring their own devices to work. The chief marketing officer will soon have more budget to spend on information technology and knows more about how it should be spent. CIOs are gatekeepers rather than strategic contributors, all they do is say “no.” Blah, blah, blah.

To all of that, Mark Thiele, executive vice president of data center for Switch, had a great response this week. The title of his blog post: “Get rid of the CIO—they’re just a roadblock to partying like it’s 1999,” almost says it all.

The advent of new technology deliver models, with more applications streaming in from outside providers a la Salesforce (CRM), Okta, Workday(WDAY), Box et al, and the use of outside servers and storage from Amazon or another cloud provider to run internally developed applications is indeed changing the workplace – but that doesn’t obviate the need for someone to keep an eye on the whole picture, both from an operations and a compliance standpoint. You could argue just the opposite. As applications and data get more distributed, it’s about governance people!

Per Thiele’s post:

… the level of risk that enterprises carry when everyone is buying their own IT solutions is very high. Each time an employee buys access to a SaaS application, they are committing the company and the company’s secrets. Each time another person buys a SaaS application that does the same thing but from another vendor, you have missed opportunity. You also have the risk of wasted licensing, little to no data integration, and one or more of these applications going from useful to critical without the necessary protections, planning, and support.

The burgeoning use of software services from many vendors—maybe you use Salesforce for customer management and SAP for financial applications, and Workday for human resources, means the danger of creating segregated data silos is as bad, or worse, than ever. Which is why some think CIOs should become the chief integration officer.

But the problem goes far beyond software. As more companies rely on outside servers, virtual machines, and storage, running on Amazon (AMZN) Web Services, (or Microsoft (MSFT)Azure or Google (GOOG)Cloud Platform or IBM(IBM)SoftLayer) someone has to track all that. Someone needs to know what’s running where, what data is stored where, and be able to provide that audit trail.

And the issue doesn’t end with the use of software-as-a-Service applications. As more companies use outside servers from Amazon or Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform to run spiky workloads as needed, the governance issue again raises its head. Someone has to know when corporate data runs outside the company network and what protections are in place. What are the service level agreements if something goes awry?

Not sure many chief marketing officers are really up to that task (or would want to handle it if they were).

Having said all that, Thiele comes to the common-sense conclusion that CIOs must have their finger on the pulse of the organization, but also must collaborate with the managers of the company’s businesses to make sure their needs are met.

If the perception that the CIO is the master of “No” then these departments will just do their own thing, and that’s a problem