2012: the outlook for CIOs

The CIO's task became harder in 2011. In 2012, IT leaders will need to cement their position as trusted advisers to the business, rather than just the person who keeps the lights on.

IT departments must become coordinators (or brokers) of IT-related activities (across their companies) that were not specified by the IT organisation originally.

Companies providing these services include start ups such as Tradeshift and Zuora in the invoicing and billing market; and established firms, such as Iron Mountain, are also offering business services through the cloud. And when the service is outsourced, the technology usually follows.

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This will mean a reduction in head counts for many IT departments, and quite possibly, a reduction in the IT budgets they control. It might not mean a reduction in what the business spends, in total, on technology.

In that scenario, the CIO should take a central, co-ordinating role. "IT departments must become coordinators (or brokers) of IT-related activities (across their companies) that were not specified by the IT organisation originally," Gartner points out.

But the role goes beyond co-ordination; the CIO also needs to provide strategic direction to the business around all areas of technology.

This shift towards a more strategic approach to technology will be one of the greatest challenges for CIOs over the next few years, analysts suggest. Much of the work of the IT department has been focused around day-to-day operations, or "keeping the lights on". This has limited both the time and resources available for developing new technologies and for innovation.

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More than keeping the lights on

Moving some IT workloads to the cloud, or to outsourcers, will help. But over the coming year, industry observers expect the CIO's role to change, as they focus more on buying and coordinating external IT services, rather than on building and maintaining in-house systems.

CIOs will need to drive the vendor selection process, set service levels, and set the agenda for security and IT governance. So although the business might fund the technology, it will be down to the CIO, in 2012, to decide which vendors to work with, the criteria those vendors' offerings need to meet, and how to integrate the newer, SAAS and other cloud infrastructure with conventional and legacy systems.

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