Cloud and UI: CIOs have a big opportunity on their hands

At a recent event, I posed a question that caught the roomful of CIOs off guard.

At a recent event, I posed a question that caught the roomful of CIOs off guard. We were talking about cloud computing and how a study by CIO's sister magazine Computerworld found that while it's currently the most overhyped technology, it's also one of the top three most important technologies for 2011.

My question was this: If cloud does become widely adopted, how would that affect the future role of the CIO? There was a moment of silence (and not the reverential kind). One CIO finally spoke up to say the cloud "allows us to focus on the business rather than on technology." Fantastic, I thought, CIOs getting deeper into their businesses is always good news.

Another CIO pointed out that the past three years have been largely focused on the infrastructure side of IT. While that's been great for more operational CIOs, it gets a bit boring for more strategically oriented IT executives. With the focus now shifting toward business process and strategy, this CIO explained, his role becomes "more relevant in tomorrow's business landscape." I couldn't agree more. We need to move away from an operational focus toward one that accelerates the business forward.

Yet another CIO chimed in with a thought that made the room draw in its collective breath. "Today, IT is very good at core infrastructure," this executive said, "but the lines of business and the Millennial workforce really understand UI [user interfaces]. That's the future and IT needs to quickly ramp up to where the business side is going. If not, we are doomed!"

That comment set off a firestorm of discussion about the role of the CIO and IT in a world where operational expertise is basically being outsourced. When you look at how swiftly applications are going mobile and how mobile commerce, geolocation technology, social media and real-time analytics are changing business, you see the bigger picture emerging.

Whatever improves that customer interaction or enhances your ability to leverage real-time information to drive revenue is the ultimate game changer. But is this the core of today's CIO value proposition?

I asked the room that question, and if we were making a movie, it would have just faded to black. The answer would have to come in the sequel. But here in the real world, I believe CIOs have an amazing opportunity to own a key business priority around UI and the customer. Am I right or wrong? Write in and share your thoughts.

E-mail President and CEO Michael Friedenberg at mfriedenberg@cio.com

Read more about web productivity in CIO's Web Productivity Drilldown.

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