I really have to learn how to write these blog titles better.  I could learn something from Peter Hinssen, a professor at UC Irvine who recently wrote an article entitled “It Departments Have Become Completely Useless“.  That’ll grab your attention, wouldn’t it Dear Reader?

Full of rage and indignation (I’m so easy to reel in), I read the article. Through the red mist, I managed to take away a few key opinions:

First, that the title “CIO” connotates a strategic ability that most current CIOs don’t fulfill – that CIOs really just act as a technology enabler, without real peer status or impact at the C-level.  He blames this, in part, on the fact that many CIOs are in their position now because they happened to be the one guy in the office who knew about computers when computers first entered the workplace.  In the Architecture vertical, I can confirm this is fairly common.  Many CIOs were drafters or computer hobbyists who said “hey, I can get us going on computers”.

This is not to devalue their contribution or abilities – it is merely a general statement about the evolution of technology.  20 years ago, the one-eyed man was King; now, your interns have eight eyes.

That evolution – and commonality and ubiquity of technology – means that IT groups no longer have the sort of exalted, mysterious, black box magic of years past.  And while that mystery may have worked to some IT groups’ advantage, the curtain being pulled back is a good thing.  The bar is no longer being set, and measured, solely by IT.

So the “traditional” identity of the CIO, as Chief Wizard and Blackberry-getter, may not cut it in today’s expectations of leadership.  In my definition of the optimal IT group, it certainly does not. Mr. Hinssen goes on about “CDOs” that really need skills in BIg Data, digital communications and social networking (!).  His trail goes one way; mine a bit different.  I could care less if the CIO knows how to use twitter.  Do they know how the *business* works, on a fundamental level?  Are they able to marry that knowledge with their technical awareness to create solutions that impact the firm’s bottom line?  If you want to get rid of IT’s reputation as a cost center, start making money.

Mr. Hinssen’s article devolves into buzzword-blather, but at the core, he has a point.  Our industry is maturing. The percentage of the workforce with a very high comfort level with technology is constantly increasing.  The bar is no longer being set internally.  That fact can be viewed one of two ways; with apprehension and fear, or with excitement at the opportunity.  I choose the latter.

*no, his title really didn’t have anything at all with his article.  Gotta learn that trick too.