It was once said that a career is spent working up to a position on the board, only to discover that the very skills and knowledge that promoted you there are obsolete by the time you arrive.
A problem that holds doubly true for CIOs. While some leading CIOs are proving highly successful, others are concerned that their role is rapidly being eroded.
The historic fixation with acquiring infrastructure, either in-house or through wholesale outsourcing to large system integrators, is dying.
And it is commercial directors, not CIOs, that are increasingly taking responsibility for specifying outcomes in business terms and procuring utility services to meet user needs.
Adding to the pressure on public sector CIOs is the need to demonstrate high value across four main areas: better public services; improved operational flexibility (agility); improved asset utilisation (reduced capex); and lower operational costs (reduced opex).
CIOs should therefore welcome the fact that many parts of their role are being taken over by others: it leaves them with the time to focus on where they can add real value.
Most government decisions have historically been based not on citizen and business needs, but on perceptions of what those needs might be.
The old model of government being a remote central body that decided it knew best is being challenged, with the potential to fundamentally re-shape government from the edge in.
Initiatives such as community-driven hack weekends, volunteered personal information and open public data provide an alternative, disruptive and ultimately more successful approach to the design and delivery of public services.
The combination of the current economic climate and the changing nature of the role is a perfect storm for CIOs, who are increasingly well positioned to take a leading role in the reform of public services.
Alongside driving out cost and transitioning to new service-based models, they can help drive a relentless focus on eliminating the poor processes that contribute to inefficient public services.
Never has it been clearer that the CIO’s role is not about technology, but about enabling organisations and those they serve to achieve the best possible outcomes.
These changes will reveal those worthy of the title CIO, and those likely to find themselves relegated into low-value back office functions.
And for those CIOs actively engaged in leading these changes, they will never find their skills obsolete: they will become one of the few executives on the board able to add real and continuing value to their organisations.