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Are cloud and mobile really disrupting CIOs?

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed August 14, 2013
The widely-accepted IT narrative is that CIOs are being disrupted by mobile and cloud. But do these assumptions hold up? Or are they vast oversimplifications?

The widely-accepted IT narrative is that CIOs are being disrupted by mobile and cloud. Adding to the indignity, CIOs are even excluded from software decisions now being made by the line of business. Or so that story goes. Oh,  and ERP is legacy now, prompting CIOs to invest their threatened budgets into customer-facing 'edge' applications. But do these assumptions hold up? Or are they vast oversimplifications?

From the cloud vantage point, I saw heard convincing anecdotes at the SAP partner summit that CIO priorities are shifting from on-premise. When it comes to enterprise mobility, I view that in a more complicated light, mostly because of uncertainties about enterprise mobile apps. But what does the data say? I scoured fresh information from three recent CIO surveys to find out.

IDG Enterprise CIO survey - some surprises

First up is a recent survey from IDG Enterprise, The CIO Tech Poll: Economic Outlook (summary info online, report available by email request). Based on data gathered from the CIO Forum on LinkedIn as well as the IDG CIO database, 209 CIOs gave IDG their economic views for 2013 and beyond. Though the sample size is not huge, the respondents had some clout (absolutely no pun intended), with manager level and above job titles for companies averaging $3 billion in revenue.

The IDG findings both support and contradict the narrative I cited. Factors supporting:

While spending in some technology areas is forecasted to remain flat, mobile, outsourced IT services (including cloud) and hardware will see increasing budgets.

Factors contradicting:

  • IT budgets are expected to show overall increase in the coming year.
  • New project spending is also on the rise, with enterprises focusing on customer-facing IT projects.
  • Technology budgets are primarily controlled by IT and when other departments do purchase technology, IT is usually involved on many levels. Specifically, 68% of the total IT spend of companies surveyed was controlled by IT and projected to remain at those levels the next 3 years.

I got the nod from IDG to share a couple of the most revealing slides with diginomica readers. First up, a slide contrasting 'core' and 'edge' IT spending:



No real surprise to see IT leaders projecting an increase in mobile and 'edge' technologies. I struggle with the 'core' and 'edge' distinction sometimes, but I'm willing to accept that customer-facing projects are pushing their way to the front of the line.

The next slide provides more insight into mobile and cloud spending:



The surge in anticipated mobile spending increases to 56% surprised me a bitl I would have expected a more gradual increase but it implies companies are building momentum from the early sales/field automation and 'executive iPad' use cases. Cloud spending clearly impact the outsourcing increase, but may be somewhat contradicted by increased hardware investments. More data would be needed for me to parse those numbers better.

Mobility impacting CIOs in emerging markets

One area where I don't question mobile impact is in developing countries (see Den's 'banking for the unbanked' video and commentary for one persuasive example). In emerging markets, mobile-first is proving to be an imperative driving re-invention out of necessity.

I contacted Greyhound Research to find out more about their recent survey of 100 CIOs in emerging markets. Half the CIOs surveyed were from Asia Pacific, and half from the Middle East and Africa.

Amongst the mobility findings of note they shared with me:

  • Mobile-first approach remains a priority for most companies in emerging markets, but challenges remain.
  • More than 70 percent of companies surveyed are either already running or planning a mobility technology expansion project.
  • More than 32 percent organizations in emerging markets said they were struggling to develop apps that run across multiple operating systems and form factors. Companies are moving from being Blackberry-centric to iOS and Android, creating a complex and expensive landscape to manage.
  • Business leaders are increasingly demanding access to enterprise apps on mobile. More than 70 percent of the organizations Greyhound interviewed have projects planned for mobilizing enterprise apps. But while enterprise apps like CRM, BI and HCM are gaining mobile traction, traditional apps like email and calendaring continue to be the highest used apps.

These findings certainly support the argument for mobility's impact (not to mention the pressure line of business is putting on IT). But we also see signs of management challenges that puts the breaks on mobile hype, from device proliferation to lack of potent out-of-the-box apps (27% of those surveyed by Greyhound were planning to build their own apps).

Control versus influence - grappling with contradictions

One more perspective comes by way of the Harvey Nash CIO Survey 2013. A monster survey released in June 2013, more than 2,000 IT professional globally participated in the survey results, which span 56 pages. As expected given Harvey Nash''s recruitment focus, the survey has rich talent management data that is worth a closer look in another blog post (see link to Slideshare with 30 pages from the survey).

How do the Nash findings jive with the other surveys? Well... it's complicated. One the one hand, the CIOs polled believe they are becoming more strategic. 36% now report to the CEO directly, compared to 21% in 2010. Fifty percent are involved in business-enabling projects. But on the other hand, the squeeze is on:

CIOs are losing more direct control of their technology vision and sharing it with other departments. Forty-three percent of CIOs say there is a degree of shared ownership of digital technology between the IT and marketing teams. A growing number of CIOs see more than 10 percent of their budgets controlled outside of the IT department: 38 percent today, compared to 34 percent in 2012 and 26 percent in 2011.

Nash acknowledges the paradox invoked by this data. They attempt to resolve that in their analysis by making the case that the strategic CIO defuses these tensions by collaborating more intensely with lines of business, outsourcing non-critical functions, and utilizing that direct access to the CEO.  Sounds good - until you consider that 69 percent of CIOs surveyed said they are spending too little time and too few resources on 'innovation projects.'

As for the CIO's biggest investment areas? Nash found cloud leading the way (63 percent),  followed by mobility (62 percent) and collaboration (46 percent).


The contradictions implied in this data may not be as big as they seem. Nash had a nice line on the CIO's lack of control not necessarily corresponding with diminishing importance: 'control' does not equate to 'influence', and CIOs are increasingly seeing their role as collaborators rather than controllers.' Even more revealing: the CIOs surveyed reported that 62% of their CEOs expected them to focus on growing the business, not on cutting costs.

The results analyzed in this piece do support the narrative I laid out in the intro, but with a big ol' caveat: the adoption levels are bumpier than we might think, and not driven by tech for its own sake. My current view is that security, integration and platform management concerns give the CIO a seat at the tech purchasing table for the foreseeable future. But in the longer view, CIOs who are unable to demonstrate their ability to grow the business will suddenly find themselves with time-a-plenty to play with the gadgets of their choice.

Photo credit: young businessman in trouble © taka -

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