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Opinion Piece Increased user empowerment and the changing role of the CIO

14 April 2014

Paul Fick, Chief Technology Officer, Jasco

Big data, the cloud, mobility and social media are the four megatrends currently affecting the IT landscape, and the job of the CIO as a result. While each of these trends is interlinked, the single unifying thread that they share is that they all enable increased user empowerment, and are fuelling the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement in one way or another. The changing role of employees as a result of this, from passive users of technology to active consumers who are driving which technology they want to use, when, and how, has caused a major corresponding paradigm shift in the IT environment of the majority of organisations. If CIOs are to remain relevant, their role needs to adapt in line with these changes, from operational technology managers to strategic business-focused suppliers of technology that drives organisational value.


Technology adoption today is driven not by organisational requirements, but by the users and what they want or wish to use. Users now want to work from locations that suit them, using a variety of mobile devices. The way people work has also changed – forbidding employees from using social media at work, for example, can be detrimental to productivity, and difficult to enforce given the number of devices a typical user has. BYOD, driven by mobility, has in essence shifted the balance of power from employer to employee. In the past, standardised IT equipment such as a corporate-issue notebooks with predefined applications and software was used to maintain control. Thin client solutions were also used to lock down the IT environment and control users. However, with the increase in mobility, the growing desire for BYOD and the availability of the cloud, not to mention greater consumerisation of IT, these solutions are simply no longer feasible. Adding complexity to this is the increasing volume, velocity and variety of data generated, as a result of mobility, social media, the cloud, and other trends. This is driving a need for better, faster decisions based on huge volumes of structured and unstructured data – in other words, the growing requirement for big data analytics.


CIOs are now faced with an interesting challenge – do they try and find new ways of enforcing structure and control, at the risk of alienating a more empowered user base? Or do they forget about architecture, policy and control and let users have their way, possibly introducing risk to the organisation? The social dynamics of the workplace has changed, and employees now hold all of the power. People want to be able to work at their own pace, in their own place, using the tools they wish to use to accomplish the job. Resistance to this change is effectively futile – organisations that push back, that shy away from change, will fail to leverage the benefits of an agile, empowered workforce. The job of the CIO is no longer to dictate technology, but to provide the tools to enable the workforce to achieve their goals and desires successfully.


The CIO will need to take steps against this backdrop to ensure that the IT function of the organisation remains trusted and relevant. The most significant change this requires is a shift in mind-set towards viewing the user as a customer of the organisation. The CIO needs to ensure that the user base partners with the IT function to enable people working off disparate technologies in dispersed locations are skilfully enabled to achieve this, while having the back end systems to support it. The role of the CIO is also moving away from management of technology and the provision of platforms towards the delivery of access to insightful information and technology. This in turn will help to drive efficiency from an operational perspective, allowing faster delivery, improved productivity, and enhanced customer satisfaction both internally and from clients of the organisation. This enables the entire organisation to become more agile, adapt faster to changes, stay on top of their game and become more competitive.


The role of the CIO has changed from an operational function that dictated what users could and could not do, to an integral leader of the business team concerned with enabling employees to do what needs to be done, furthering strategy and mitigating the risk imposed by the four overriding trends of today’s technology space. If CIOs can understand this paradigm shift and adapt accordingly, technology will move from a supporting role to an active driver of business strategy.