The end of the CIO?

Look forward three to five years and there may be no chief information officers as we have come to know them left in Australian organisations.

"The CIO role is at a critical point - it is potentially under threat," Forrester analyst John Brand told a closed-door gathering of CIOs in Sydney last week. "The key is not try to build the strongest wall around IT but to focus on responding to changes as quickly as you can, that's the role of the CIO in the future.

"The world is changing, it depends on how much you want to drive or be driven over."

But while the CIO's traditional gatekeeper role is waning in influence and relevance, more exotic modes for the office of head nerd are on the horizon that are best described as innovative, swift and disruptive to the status quo.

One of these is the Chief Mobility Officer ("CMOO" in industry parlance), which is the new locus around which business and information is inflecting.

"Mobile will redefine IT as the PC did 20 years ago; remember, we used to call it data processing," said Forrester vice-president and senior analyst, John McCarthy.

Australian organisations were facing a perfect storm of crunched budgets, mobile technology, hyper-connected and demanding customers that would see the rate of innovation gather pace several-fold over the next few years, he said.

Although our CIOs have spoken for years about aligning with the business, their offshore counterparts are now valued by their ability to innovate products and services the business may not even know it yet needs.

Local analyst Tim Sheedy said Australian organisations tend to be too risk averse to quickly jump on this trend: "That translates to a lot of organisations looking for operational CIOs – not looking at IT as a massive enabler for the business".

"As a transformational CIO you start on the back foot," Sheedy said. "Sell soft, sell small, show a little thing that IT did that was good to get invited to the table. North American businesses are using technology to disrupt" but that leaves Australian companies squaring off with offshore disruptors "in a pretty terrible position".

ING statements on your Facebook

That disruption could come in the form of ING retail banking's global CIO, Saul van Beurden, who uses Agile rapid development to prise emerging services niches or implementing IT Infrastructure Library in the public sector to chart a course through 3600 job cuts, as Grahame Coles is doing in Victoria's Department of Human Services.

ING gives teams up to $300,000 to quickly write applications, such as a social media dashboard tracking disgruntled banking customers.

"Information is the new oil," van Beurden said.

In the past 18 months, he has ceded a traditional IT focus to spending two-fifths of his time writing business plans with heads of marketing and country CEOs.

"And we see if something is happening that can be launched in that country as a pilot, and then how we can roll it out (elsewhere). No governance, no people checking on standards, just fail fast or succeed.

"And the only thing we intend to do is be fastest in the market."

That extends to bringing bank statements to customers through secure widgets visible in their Facebook pages - "If you are on Facebook, we have to be there as well" - and opening itself up to third-party developers through a software development kit.

"This taps in on the creativity and needs of people that are not our own people – marketing and IT don't know everything."

Pragmatism played a big part because a US court case brought by financial services company Mint forced ING to open its kimono to outsiders and now nearly two-thirds of customer queries come through that channel, he said.

Restructure delays Services Connect

The driver for Victoria DHS CIO Grahame Coles was also customer satisfaction, but in the wake of savage job cuts even while demand was soaring from an economic downturn.

The Baillieu Government's razor gang stymied projects such as the Services Connect one-stop shop for government agencies (on hold until Christmas) while staff were made redundant, and left Coles little time to migrate to a leaner operation.

To counter staff confusion and anger, Coles invoked the IT Infrastructure Library focusing on strategy, design, operations, transition and continual improvement. The service-delivery framework mapped roles and guided the process, he said.

Coles said the genesis for Services Connect was that citizens "struggle to work out where to get services from government", especially when they are already traumatised such as from being wiped out by bushfires or floods. "You have to navigate nine to 10 departments to get back on your feet."

Counter intuitively, a new practice in service design to drive innovation was built into the structure with five fresh bodies even as applications development and operations slimmed.

"We had a very basic service catalog that was too technology focused so we put a better description on services and a services-level agreement on what (department customers) can expect with reduced resources."

Coles acknowledged the temptation for departments to buy in their needs from unsanctioned cloud providers, but hoped good governance would prevail.

"We've put in a lot of cloud solutions - probably six applications - so, rather than trying to stop them, we're helping to put some of that technology in."