Insight and analysis on the data center space from industry thought leaders.

CIO Roles Shifting in Emerging Cloud Landscape

Bryan Doerr, of Savvis/CenturyLink, writes that the current swirl of activity in IT means for the role of the CIO as orchestrator of the overall corporate application portfolio is changing.

Industry Perspectives

January 4, 2012

3 Min Read
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Bryan Doerr is chief technology officer at Savvis, a CenturyLink company and a global leader in cloud infrastructure and hosted IT solutions.




I’ve been thinking a bit about what the current swirl of activity in IT means for the role of the CIO as orchestrator of the overall corporate application portfolio. Because of the existing forces impacting IT, I believe the CIO role will undergo significant changes in the emerging IT landscape, which is increasingly centered around ubiquitous computing – underpinned namely by cloud.

The good news is that, in a sense, change is nothing new for CIOs. The role has been in continual formation since it evolved from “information systems manager” in the late 1970s. Each era of computing – Mainframe, Distributed Computing, Web and now Post-PC – encouraged the CIO to assume new roles in the business because of a combination of technology, vendor and strategy shifts.

Changes in the CIO Role

So what will the latest round of changes mean for the role of the CIO? To answer this question, I looked at the trends I’m observing while meeting with Savvis clients, and frankly I think the changes look somewhat ominous.

When I look at the activities performed by people with the title of CIO, I see a wide spectrum. CIOs operate at varying levels, with differing, frequently changing missions. Based on numerous encounters and conversations over the past few years, I created the table below to highlight some of the very basic categories of CIO types and their activities.

Previous Role/Method

New Role/Method

Internal Provider


Supplier Manager

Technology Supplier


Technology advisor

IT Operator


Business Optimizer

Back-Office Focus


Business App Focus

Solutions Reactively


Strategy Proactively

The important idea to note here is that I’m seeing huge variations in the CIO role.

What Lies Ahead?

And here is why I’m concerned about the future of the CIO: With all of this variation in roles – dare I say this lack of cohesion – the CIO position seems to be a good candidate for eventual elimination. In my experience, a lack of coherence in any design (in this case the design of the executive suite) indicates that a refactoring may be needed and the CIO might be a casualty of this process.

This outcome seems more likely if you look at how the understanding of and access to IT is being afforded to all executives, and how these executives are being empowered to make their own IT decisions. Business units deciding their own IT solutions, the merging of front office and back office, and the general distribution of IT knowledge across the executive ranks all impact the role and even the lifespan of the CIO.

Avoid Joining the Dinosaurs

To avoid this road to extinction, CIOs need to recognize the current environment for what it is – the beginnings of radical change. CIOs should assume their positions will probably turn abruptly, and they need to begin anticipating these changes.

It is likely that today, the majority of a CIOs time is spent lowering IT costs and extending the life of legacy applications. While certainly valuable, CIOs can’t ignore the opportunity to be a leader in the introduction of entirely new business models and applications based on ubiquitous computing. The ways we communicate, learn, organize, govern and conduct commerce are being impacted.

For those looking for a silver lining in this situation, take heart because as the saying goes, “Change brings opportunity.” CIOs who know their industry, understand how ubiquitous computing will change it, and recognize how to leverage the cloud to bring about these changes and create competitive advantage will likely thrive regardless of their title – possibly even as CEO.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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