Consumer technology is changing the CIO role

Tom Allen
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Apte joined Mars as Director of Digital Foundations Integration this month
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Apte joined Mars as Director of Digital Foundations Integration this month

"The needle of technology has definitely moved on to the consumer space," says Amitabh Apte of Mars, Inc.

The consumerisation of IT is forcing a change in the roles of the CIO, CTO and even CDO, as business leaders become accustomed to having the information and power that they need at their fingertips - when they're at home.

Professional capabilities are a different matter, with many companies requiring their employees to work full-time on machines that would, in their private lives, be relegated to ‘Something for the kids to play on'.

Amitabh Apte, formerly of Reckitt Benckiser and as of this month the new Director of Digital Foundations Integration at Mars, says that the CIO position is increasingly associated with operational roles. He describes it as, "Where is my Blackberry, where is my iPhone, why is my data centre up and running - or not?"

Technology has evolved from something that is happening in a data centre to something that happens on peoples' desks

At the same time, there is a danger in the CTO space of "having a conversation of technology for the sake of technology." Technology officers should instead be asking, "Where [am I] going to make a difference in a digital space?"

That question is becoming more difficult to answer as end-users make their own difference with BYOD and shadow IT. The technology available to them as private individuals often outpaces legacy corporate IT systems.

"The point I'm making," said Apte, "is that technology has evolved rapidly, from something that is happening in a data centre somewhere to something that happens on peoples' day-to-day desks.

"As a CIO or even a CTO, you're always playing catch-up, because the market is changing quickly and so are consumers' expectations… You're always battling these situations where a marketing or sales department, or definitely the finance department, are taking calls on [their own] technology.

"An example is the CFO coming to challenge you, on an almost monthly basis, asking, ‘Why are we still doing things in a data centre? Why do I have an outage in my recording system? Why do I have to wait seven days for my report? Why, why, why?'

"At home the CFO is seeing his spend with Amazon instantly; he's seeing dynamic stock prices and inventory prices. That's a disparity. You end up in this situation where the business now is more and more empowered to take calls on [BYOD] technology."

It is impossible to resist the consumerisation of IT; that ship has long since sailed. However, IT leaders can still incorporate it into the business:

"More and more CIOs and CTOs are opting for the hybrid approach: hybrid technology, hybrid data centre. That's what we did at [Reckitt Benckiser]. You'll have a hybrid infrastructure where you're shifting applications onto the cloud… You'll only keep systems that you can't get away with moving because they offer a competitive advantage [by being on-prem].

"Everything else - what's your case for saying you'll look after your data centre better than Amazon or Google?

"It's a phenomenal shift. It's amazing how fast it's changed; from five years ago where cloud was treated with some suspicion - that conversation has gone. Now people are accepting that if you don't have a cloud strategy, something is wrong."

The effect of this shift is that the entry barriers to IT are falling. It is easier than ever to set up a data lake in the cloud, with an eCommerce portal on Shopify and a Salesforce CRM. "It's a beautiful example of how technology has democratised the whole business cycle," said Apte.

Despite the comparative ease of implementation, and the shift in traditional areas of responsibility, the CIO role isn't going anywhere - but it is evolving.

"I'm not saying that the role of a CIO will go away - you still need that enterprise IT, that large enterprise application support, management support, service levels, backup and recovery, defence against cyber; they're not going away. However, the needle of technology has definitely moved on to the consumer space."

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