Changing Role of CIO



Changing Role of CIO

Presented at the CIO Summit, May 21-22, 2013, DHA Golf Club Convention Center, Karachi. (Presentation pdf)

We know that we have transited from the industrial age in to
the information age. We can put the date of this transition formally to the start
of internet revolution in the mid 1990s. What is the impact on workforce when one moves from one age
in to another age? To study this impact of change we should look back to the
time when we transited from the agriculture age to the industrial age.

One useful parameter is the nature of employment of people.
In agriculture age, significant majority was that of farm workers. In the
industrial age the significant majority was that of industrial workers.  In early 1900s, in USA, about 70% of the
population was farm workers and only 3% were working in the industry. The situation
has totally reversed by 1980s when only 3% of population of USA was working in
the farms and about 70% of the people were working in the industry. We are now
in the midst of the information age. Employees working with information are
often called knowledge workers. The shift of the population from the industry
workers to knowledge workers is already significant. In information age, only a
very small percentage of people around 5% would be industry workers, and 70%
and even much more would be knowledge workers.

We can already see the shift. Over the last fifteen years,
nature of work in organizations has already changed. Most employees are adept
at the use of computers and information technology.  Kids starting from a very early age are born
knowledge workers __  Much more
proficient and comfortable with mobile phones and computers than their
predecessors. It is a common sight to see even a two year old playing with
mobile phones. This generation is fundamentally different from its predecessor
in the ease with which it lives with the technology and works with it. Gone are
the days when the IT department had to convince the higher management about the
need for the adoption of the information technology. There is now enough of the
pressure from the youth that even die-hard opposers of technology are now
forced to change.

There is now widespread use of technologies and platform.
Organizations have now fundamentally changed from whatever they were doing to
becoming knowledge organizations. Their task has now become to manipulate,
process and present data. Their existence has become virtual.  Any organization that fails to see itself and
its mission as manipulation, processing and presenting of data in a unique
format is destined for oblivion.  It is a
matter of life and death for every organization that wants to survive in the
information age. The industry is now littered with examples upon examples of
organization that failed to see themselves as knowledge processors and were
forced to either redefine themselves or to become relics of history.  

Once upon time, we used to consider postal industry to be
different from the movie industry, movie industry to be different from the
telephone industry, telephone industry to be different from the TV industry, TV
industry to be different from the camera industry, camera industry to be
different from the computer industry, and computer industry to be different
from the telecommunication industry. The boundaries between these industries
were dismantled by the information age some fifteen years ago. Only those
companies managed to survive who were quick to see themselves as part of the
wider knowledge processing industry. The classic distinction of industries and
sectors is now obsolete and irrelevant to the economic analysis.
If you don’t see yourself as a knowledge processing industry
you are gone. A mobile phone today is a computer, telephone, camera, movie
maker, communicator, bank branch, retail outlet, and much more. Anything that
you want it to be, even your friendships and family life is now there.

Once upon time there used to be big giant of a bookseller
Barnes and Noble. I think it is still there trying to define itself in terms of
internet and identity. They did not know from where they were hit. They were
sitting smug, not realizing that a virtual competitor called came
from nowhere and took the central stage in the book selling business. Not
content to selling of only the books, amazon had redefined itself as a general
retailer as well and is now redefining itself as IT solutions and
infrastructure provider.

Microsoft today is not being challenged by a computer
company but a search engine on the internet.

In 1997 Encyclopedia Britannica with its over 200 years
history was sitting smug. Some diehard crazy individuals thought they could
create an Encyclopedia with volunteers and unpaid knowledge workers.  We can give some license to Britannica they
were in a different field. But what about Microsoft and its Encarta
Encyclopedia. That also got started in 1997. Even they could not foresee the
trend. In 2012 officially Encarta division of Microsoft was shutdown.
Britannica after its illustrious reign of several centuries starting in 1776 stopped
its print business and was forced to simply exist only as an online business.
Both a computer giant Microsoft and the print encyclopedia giant Britannic were
forced out by a collaborative encyclopedia site that was free and developed by
unpaid volunteers, Wikipedia. Newsweek, the big name in the weekly publications
established in 1933 was forced to shut down 
in 2012. Many other big names in the newspaper industry are already
gone. Unable to survive the challenge from the online news.

We have the example of Nokia whose emergence, reaching the
status of giant and whose decline has been so rapid. Similar is the case of
blackberry now trying its best to survive from the challenge from a company
that never classified itself in the mobile business, google.

I am giving these examples to show that if you do not
envision yourself as a knowledge processor in the IT domain your existence is
threatened. You are doomed.

Let me now give you the example. There are these monster
enterprises over the world established over the last few centuries that think
they control the generation and production of knowledge. They are known as
universities. They think that their biggest assets are their buildings and
their campuses. Even the most progressive of government organizations such as
the HEC in its latest criteria thinks that the quality of a university is its
campus and its physical facilities. They are now sadly out of sync with what
has been now labeled as the “avalanche” which is hurtling down the mountain and
which is going to shatter all the long held beliefs about the universities and
their quality criteria about how to create and disseminate knowledge. How can
this not be!

When the majority of the population is a knowledge worker,
when all their day they are working with knowledge, creating knowledge,
manipulating knowledge, presenting knowledge, then the role of a secluded
physical space where the same would be done and would be considered value
addition is questionable. Let me pronounce today.

University as we see it today is doomed. Let me tell you
how. It is very simple. Whom do you think would take on the role of a
university? The primary role of the university is to certify that such and such
knowledge processing task i.e. subject has been passed by the student.  I think this kind of certification could
easily be done by a company like LinkedIn. 
An individual can already endorse the project work of a person on the
net. An organization or its authorized representative can then do this
endorsement.  Supposing a student does 40
projects for reputable companies like IBM, Engro, Lever , TPS, etc and has to
its credit on his linkedin account endorsement from such companies. Each
project may correspond in its nature to a relevant course required for a
degree. Would you consider this endorsement of practical project much more
valuable than an endorsement by a university teacher?

I will give you another example, supposing a student has
done 40 courses through MOOCs conducted by the faculty of Stanford, MIT and
Berkley. Would you consider their endorsement as more powerful than an
endorsement of a university with its ordinary teachers. Same is true by the
generation of knowledge. Previously it used to be the domain of specialized
labs. Today these labs data is available on line to volunteers and online
analysts to study and churn out results. There is democratization of knowledge
creation all around. There are now more wonderful and exciting learning
environments available on line than with any other teacher. For universities to
survive they need to redefine their expertise and leverage the internet to be
one step ahead of the technology. Their inability to do this would render
themselves to be obsolete and irrelevant to the fast pace of change. 4 years is
a terribly long time in the information age to gain any expertise where a
technology from its introduction to its zenith and its obsolescence covers the
entire product life cycle in a few years.

I have been giving these example to show that the role of
CIO is now different. The other day I called the CIO of the university where I work and gave him a
number of papers on this avalanche which is about to hit the existence of universities.
I told him to develop a business strategy for the institute and assume the role
of a leader who can guide the higher management about the trends and the
followings in different areas. He fortunately had already done a MOOC from a
Stanford Professor and was knowledgeable about what was happening. However, my
challenge was to tell him that his role is much more than to oversee the
implementation of PeopleSoft and ensuring that the organization moves towards a
campus management system and an ERP.

The role of CIO is now that of a person who monitors the
changing trends in the industry and not just in a particular industry but all
around. The next challenge to your organization may be from a very different
player that you may not have thought about. Who would have thought that Telenor
with EasyPaisa would be a threat to the Western Union and a Commercial
inter-bank transfer.

The other challenge is to understand that the employees may
be more expert in the technology than even the IT workers. Their knowledge and
expertise in particular areas may surpass that of the expertise in the IT
department. They would probably be more interested in selecting for
themselves  the particular application
and features. A role that was previously with the CIO. This power will now go
the consumer departments. There is more democratization of the power. Functional
features and their ownership and requirements would now be the domain of the
consumer departments.

The other is that CIO may be the person looking at the big
picture involving non-functional features such as integration, scalability,
reliability, maintainability, security, extensibility, performance etc.

As you can see from the topics of the sessions in this
summit the issues now involve organization wide data and its long term use. The
existence of the organization in the virtual domain, very well termed now as
the cloud. We will now all be living in the cloud. The days of living on the
earth where our feets are firmly planted on the ground are over. Our existence
and our future is now up in the clouds.

The bargaining power of the CIO now has to change. He must
be able to articulate the non-functional requirements of the various “ity”-s in
the form of business strategy and business terminology. These non-functional “ity”-requirements
include reliability, extensibility, maintainability, modularity, testability, availability,
etc.  He needs to be the owner of the
virtual existence of the company. The designer of the virtual existence of the
organization in the cloud and owners of the expertise and knowledge of the
organization in the form of big data.

See Also:


  1. Salam!
    This is in reference to my previous message that i posted on Google+ yesterday. Having read abouy your clear views about age transition, changing roles and new emerging trends, i must say thay my previously raised questions are well answered. My opinion goes in 100% agreement with your analysis and thoughts.
    After commenting on your article, i would like to present my views which are rather directed towards human psychology. Undoubtedly, if organizations do not try to get them adjusted, they are gone. Kids are far proficient than their elders in using e-devices and apps. Very right, but think for a moment what happened when this simple device called cell phone became everything, it even became a "social member" of this society? The damage is immeasurable!
    Damage to values, damage to memory, damage to ethics and morality, damage to societal values and gatherings, damage to trust and emotions and damage to time are some of the damages we experience in this imformation age. Sir, i know you have not been debating on merits and demerits of this age, in fact i myself agree what you try to convey, however, i am just trying to form an opinion, keeping in view the human psychology, that this mankind will come to its basics someday. This humanity is getting and will further get frustrated due to the inclusion of high tech devices and apps. which have replaced even relationships. Hope i am clear!

  2. You are so right. I would like you to see the talk "Alone together" on

    This talk posits that this message exchange (for example) does NOT constitute a conversation and can never be a substitute for face-to-face communication. Same is true for message exchanges via sms, emails, blogs, etc.

    What we are loosing out is on the "humanity" of our interactions as we focus more and more on the "technology". It is far easier to annihalate thousands while sitting thousands of miles away with a press of a button as if in a video game (or Enola Gay dropping atom bomb and killing several hundred thousands in Hiroshima), then to actually take a sword and kill and maime like a Tartar warrior in a battlefield where you see the blood oozing and people shrieking with pain.

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