Is the CIO next on the list of jobs with an expiry date?

ORLANDO – On the first day of the Gartner Symposium, CIOs from all industries heard about the threat of disruption posed by digital competitors, and were even asked to contemplate the end of their own role holding the reins on technology for the business.

The first day of the symposium is the “industry track.” CIOs gather to hear the latest from Gartner experts in their particular industries. I arrived early to participate in these forums, and attended a range of the briefings from a crossing a number of industries.

While each industry has its own particular challenges there was a common theme. Every industry is dealing with significant new threats from new digital competitors. Equally, ever industry is looking to information technology to survive these competitive threats.

The nexus of forces driving change – social, mobile, big data and cloud

This is not news. Gartner has been talking for years about the “nexus” of forces that are driving change in business enabled by IT – social, mobile, big data and cloud. These forces have buffeted organizations for years, forcing companies to change and adapt at an ever increasing rate.

But two new factors have been added. First, every industry has seen the emergence of new competitors leveraging new business models enabled by technology, but increasingly, these business models are now serving very sophisticated digital enterprises. Unencumbered by legacy technology, process, and culture, these digital enterprises have been able to rapidly adapt to the four nexus forces – social, mobile, big data, and cloud.

Competitive barriers crumble with new business models

And they’ve extended into businesses in a way and at a rate that no one would have thought possible. While music and publishing were natural digital adopters, digital competition is extending to new areas once thought unassailable. Firms like Uber now dominate the taxi business. Air B&B has moved into the hotel business. The solid “bricks and mortar” of real estate and fleets of licensed vehicles may once have provided a competitive barrier. Or if that wasn’t sufficient, regulation by civic authorities in zoning and licensing was thought to be a strong barrier. Yet, in case after case, industry after industry, these barriers to competition have been rendered irrelevant. New digital competition can not only enter a market, it can scale at a previously unthinkable rate, limited only by the imagination and determination of its founders.

Every industry has a new competitive threat – even regulation can’t save you

In session after session, Gartner analysts in each of the specialized industry sessions made clear and consistent cases for new competitive threats that arise from both existing competitors and new entrants. Every industry has one or even several “Ubers” or “Air B&B” competitors leveraging new technologies and innovative, transformative business models. Previous barriers to entry – capital, regulation, and even trained workforces are not only irrelevant and ineffective, they are anchors which hold back the transformation necessary for legacy companies to compete in this new digital economy.

One example stood out among many for me. We assume that highly regulated industries like health care would be the last to crumble. After all, what can replace the physician and the specialist? Even when there is a real desire for change, the culture and bureaucracy have defeated many attempts to digitize. Ontario and other jurisdictions have struggled for years to create a single integrated health record. The obstacles are not technical.  Or ask anyone who has waited weeks or even months for medical tests. They might be disgruntled – but when pushed, they will ask “what is the alternative? What can compete with a physician?”

Yet at the Gartner conference, we saw a glimpse of a new future in a picture of a portable lab that provides automated diagnosis from an array of sensors. Having taken the tests, it ships that information out for expert analysis not by physicians, but by computer programs more accurate than any trained clinician. This lab is not a multi-million dollar building. It’s a portable kiosk that could be set up anywhere to provide up to date medical diagnosis – without appointments. If this can be done today in the health care industry, what industry could be immune? What is not possible?

That is what confronted the IT leaders who participated in the dozens of industry sessions on the first day of the conference. Digital business models and IoT are poised to add to a growing list of challenges for a profession that is asked, as one speaker noted, “to do a lot more with a lot less.” For those CIOs who are still reeling form the onslaught of the four horsemen (mobile, social, big data and cloud) the message was clear – this new wave of technology and there is little time to prepare.

As we all learned from the mobile and cloud explosion, there is no way to control this change. Business users will simply go around IT departments that will not engage with them to rapidly provide these new products and services.

Jobs with an expiry date?

Author Peter Hinssen (The Network Always Wins) gave a hilarious presentation that in retrospect, may have an ominous tone in the context of this conference. In a wide-ranging look at the near future, he featured a list of “jobs with an expiry date.”

In a world with driverless cars (already legal in two US states), would our children actually need drivers’ licenses? Would we need driving instructors?

Which led me to think – if CIOs fail to lead the transformation of their organizations  even with the best of reasons – will organizations simply turn to a new executive? Could CIO join the list of “jobs with an expiry date?”

Clearly in this first day, Gartner has presented the challenges. We look forward to more sessions where we might explore what IT can do – before we reach our “expiry date.”

Join me over the next few days as I’ll be posting updates each day from the Gartner conference in and   Check out our feature section on Gartner that has a range of interviews and information from Gartner analysts at

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jim Love
Jim Love
I've been in IT and business for over 30 years. I worked my way up, literally from the mail room and I've done every job from mail clerk to CEO. Today I'm CIO and Chief Digital Officer of IT World Canada - Canada's leader in ICT publishing and digital marketing.

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