Competition and Control

Diana G. Oblinger and Joanne Dehoney

This is the fifth in a blog series describing five “metatrends,” drawn from a review of articles in industry IT press, that affect CIOs in all IT sectors:


Each post in the Future Slant blog will describe one of these trends, suggesting implications for higher education.


Information technology organizations once controlled IT systems. Today, with information technology a part of virtually all institutional functions, some IT decisions flow through other functional departments. BYOE moves “control” to consumers. At many levels, IT organizations have seen their control diminish as other departments compete for influence.

As Steve Ranger writes in “The Strange Life, Death, and Rebirth of the CIO and What It Means for the Future of IT”: “Spending on technology by departments outside of IT is . . . on the rise. According to a survey by IDC, 61 percent of enterprise technology projects are now funded by the business rather than the IT department, and IT spending driven by non-IT departments will outpace IT-department spending in the future.” He adds: “Who the CIO needs to influence is also changing, as their fellow executives become more tech savvy.” Ranger quotes Rohit Killam, CTO at Masan Group: “With democratization of technology, business applications will be more easily understood by functional heads like CMO, CFO, etc. Hence they will have [a] better handle over technology decisions.”

Perhaps the strongest theme in the industry press is a rebalancing of the CIO role between control and influence. This balance plays out in several ways. For instance, new leadership roles are emerging that may compete with the CIO; at a minimum, they demand more intense collaborations.

These include C-level roles such as a “digital officer” or “data officer”:

  • Chief digital officers are responsible for capitalizing on the digital potential of an institution. They may be charged, for example, with developing a digital strategy for an entire enterprise and may be positioned parallel to or above the CIO organizationally.
  • Chief data officers may be differentiated from chief digital officers and are responsible for data governance and for overseeing data risk and compliance matters.

In “The Role of the Chief Data Officer,” Jane Griffin notes: “It’s crucial to have a C-level person who is responsible for crafting and implementing data strategies, standards, procedures, and accountability policies at the enterprise level. Chief Digital Officers also typically function proactively by championing data as a strategic business asset and driver of revenue.”

As Ranger explains, we may see additional differentiation and proliferation of such roles: “To complicate matters even further, it's possible that other job titles will also emerge as the IT department changes: according to Gartner, the role of the chief digital officer needs to be broken down even further, into three distinct roles: digital strategy advisers (DSAs), digital market leaders (DMLs), and digital business unit leaders (DBULs).”

Other roles may also compete or intersect with the CIO:

  • The chief automation officer (CAO) is responsible for an enterprise-wide approach to automation. In “Why the CIO Isn’t Cutting It Anymore,” Toni Bowers writes: “Automation is a special area that unites operational policies, repeated activities, resources, and people in such a pervasive way that companies need to approach it with a coordinated view. . . . By assessing all processes within the organization and analyzing them to see which ones can be united, simplified, and/or eliminated through automation, the CAO can build business processes that work like clockwork.”
  • The chief marketing officer (CMO) may bring specific IT expertise and demands, especially in analytics.
  • E-learning leadership roles, which may not report to the IT organization, require not only IT expertise but also skill in building markets and services.


In the data arena, these new roles may be evidence of a land-grab for an asset with cachet and strategic value. But more important, new roles such as these reflect a shifting emphasis from the technology itself to what can be done with the technology. The roles are created because people want more specific outcomes from IT investments than core network and infrastructure functions.

CIOs are negotiating, brokering, and orchestrating services rather than building, staffing, and managing them end-to-end. The role of the CIO may be less about control than influence, particularly as business units become more involved in making IT decisions and purchases. As noted in the Executive’s Guide to the Future of IT Leadership: “One in five CIOs . . . feel they have lost an element of direct control over their IT assets in the last five years. But . . . ‘control’ does not equate to ‘influence,’ and CIOs are increasingly seeing their role as collaborators rather than controllers. Almost half say their influence has increased over the last five years.”

With information technology now being involved in all aspects of the institution, the potential influence of the CIO is huge, yet the potential span of control may be impossible to manage. Presidents, provosts, and trustees have more knowledge of—and interest in—information technology today than they have in decades. CIOs are being looked to as collaborators and as co-creators of new environments and program approaches, such as those connected with digital learning. How IT leaders manage this moment of increased influence may make a huge difference in their future.


© 2014 Diana G. Oblinger and Joanne Dehoney. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License (