Enterprise information flow is changing, but the mission of the CIO is not

There’s been a lot of speculation about how the role of the CIO will change in a Mobile First world. The impact of mobility and cloud services are changing the relationship between IT and the rest of an organization.  Executives, line of business managers, and individual employees can source their own technology solutions.

It’s easy for CIOs and IT leaders to see this as a terrifying prospect – and that’s completely understandable. There is a sense that this can lead to a loss of control or influence. That is certainly a cause for concern.

The reality, however, is that this doesn’t mean the sky is falling. On the contrary, this is a unique opportunity for CIOs and other IT leaders.

As I wrote recently, the core mission of the CIO has always been about facilitating the flow of information within a company. Traditionally that has been through the use of files servers, corporate data centers, and fully managed PCs. All of that led to a situation in which the CIO was charged with managing devices and infrastructure rather than information. The mission became to manage the technology and the IT team more than managing information.

As information moves away from the heavy infrastructure of the past to mobile devices and cloud solutions, it empowers employees to work anywhere at any hour. It removes the latency of access to business information as well as the latency of acting on that information. It also empowers those workers to use the best tool, be it a device, app, or service, to access and act on that information.

At the heart of this revolution, however, is information and it’s important to focus on the fact that the “I” in CIO has always stood for information.

As data becomes an information fabric that weaves across traditional solutions and new services and spans location and time boundaries as never before, the role of the CIO becomes even more important. The role focuses less on the heavy infrastructure of the past and more on ensuring that data can flow freely from one service to another, from one device to another, and from one department or workgroup to another.

The challenge here is that, as managers and users begin adopting apps and services on their own, information will become siloed. Data from marketing may not be accessible to sales, for example. Finance data won’t be easily accessible to line of business managers. Customer support won’t know about data compiled by engineering. The result is technologies that empower individuals and teams limit the organization as a whole.

This is where the core mission of the CIO comes into play. The CIO can no longer dictate the devices, PCs, services, and storage solution in the way he or she could a decade ago.

At the same time, the CIO has a unique capability that is critically important – the ability to make sure information can flow across these new services, devices, and apps. By actively working with each manager and executive and learning from the pockets of shadow IT within a company, the CIO can develop a strategy to ensure that information flows across the company as friction-free as possible.

That strategy includes breaking down data silos. It includes integrating information flow across a range of services. It means creating a coherent set of solutions that allow users to access and interact any piece of information that could be relevant to their jobs. It is all about the reason the CIO role came into being in the first place – to help an organization make effective use of information of all kinds in new and innovative ways that deliver real world value and competitive advantages.

Twenty five years ago when the CIO role emerged in businesses across the globe, achieving those goals involved a specific set of technologies and solutions. Today, a new set of technologies and solutions has emerged and it puts much more power in the hands of managers and users.

The mission of the CIO, however, hasn’t changed. It is still about facilitating the flow of information and providing the ability to act on that information in meaningful ways.

Ryan Faas