State of the CIO 2017: Priorities that can't wait

State of the CIO 2017: Priorities that can't wait

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IT and Business Alignment

CIO magazine just came out with its 16th annual "State of the CIO" report that tracks evolving views of the CIO and IT's role in the modern organization. Based on surveys of 646 CIOs and other IT leaders and 200 line of business leaders, the report provides a snapshot of where CIOs stand in their organizations today. More important, it provides some deep insight into how the role is evolving, and what to expect over the coming year.

Based on the results, here are some ways 2017 will be different from 2016:

1. You're more likely to leave your job.

Average CIO job tenure has always been relatively brief. But over the past five years, CIOs have been staying longer at their jobs, with average tenure increasing from five years and four months in the 2012 survey to six years and six months in last year's survey. This year, average tenure tumbled back down to five years and six months. 

But what do those numbers really mean? Are CIOs getting forced out, or are they moving on to other positions voluntarily? The survey didn't ask. But it is clear that fewer CIOs see the job as the last stop before retirement these days. And more are moving into LOB leadership, or other roles such as COO. So it may be that decreasing CIO longevity is a good sign and not a bad one.

2. You'll have even more trouble hiring.

Sixty percent of CIO respondents say they expect to experience a skills shortage in the coming year. That's significantly up from the 2016 survey, when 49 percent (already a pretty high number) answered yes to this question.

Just what skills are they expecting to lack? Not surprisingly, data science, analytics, and business intelligence topped the list, with 41 percent of respondents from large enterprises saying they expected a shortfall in this area. Next highest was security and risk management, with more than a third of large enterprises expecting a skills gap for these jobs. Beyond these two roles, skills concerns were pretty evenly spread over functions from cloud services to project management to DevOps.

3. You'll spend even more time with customers.

The CIO role today is firmly customer-facing. Among survey respondents, 76 percent of enterprise CIOs and 68 percent of SMB respondents report that they meet with customers either "occasionally" or "frequently." And for all size companies, more than half the IT leaders surveyed expect their direct contact with customers to increase either "significantly" or "somewhat" in the coming year.

4. You may have trouble agreeing with your peers about which technologies to buy.

IT leader respondents and LOB respondents were in general agreement about the business initiatives driving technology investment, with both groups saying that growing the business, improving customer experience, increasing efficiency, and transforming business processes are the top priorities. But when it comes to the question of which technologies to buy, there's stark disagreement. IT leaders said big data/analytics and cloud computing were the top two priorities driving technology investments. On the other hand, line of business leaders said the top two priorities were business process management and customer experience. It would seem that some detailed discussions are needed before making technology investments.

5. You'll need to do more outreach.

After more than a decade of talk about business-IT alignment, cross-functional teams, and CIOs having a "seat at the table," there is still stark disagreement about exactly how IT functions within the larger organization. When LOB leaders were asked about the role their companies' CIOs play, 41 percent said the CIO is a strategic advisor who identifies business needs and opportunities and proposes technology to address them. Another 22 percent said the CIO is a consultant who provides advice about technology and service providers when asked.

But 10 percent said their CIO was a "roadblock" who raises so many obstacles and objections to new technology that projects are difficult to complete. And another 9 percent said the CIO was a "rogue player," with IT making technology decisions on its own, and creating visibility and transparency challenges.

Meanwhile, 36 percent of LOB leaders and 31 percent of IT leaders believe other departments "see IT as an obstacle." And 58 percent of IT leaders but only 13 percent of LOB leaders agreed with the statement, "IT gets scapegoated by other departments when they miss their own goals."

Clearly, there's still a lot of work to be done getting CIOs and LOB leaders to understand each other. The smartest IT leaders will spend some of 2017 connecting with their LOB peers, opening lines of communication, and making sure everyone has the same basic understanding of IT's role in the larger scheme of things. It may be challenging to find the time for such outreach in the middle of managing security, keeping everything up and running, and exploring new technological initiatives. But, as these numbers show, it's a priority that can't be put off.

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and columnist for She is co-author of "The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don't Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive," as well as several other books. She lives in Snohomish, Washington.

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