Is it any wonder that many pundits are writing the CIO's obituary when your employees and the business are using technologies like social, mobile, cloud, and video to bypass IT?

Meanwhile, today's customers expect on-demand information, customized user experiences, and mobile apps. Your datacenter functions are being outsourced to gain cost efficiencies.

All these changes may sound dismal to some but they also offer a unique opportunity for CIOs to step up and lead their technology organizations into the world of empowered BT (business technology, or EBT).

This is a technology approach where enabling technology innovation is embedded in the business while IT provides just enough centralized coordination and oversight for enterprisewide goals. See Figure 1: The CIO's Role, below.

CIOs in this new world of EBT will play a vital role in developing and implementing business strategy — defining the technology direction for the organization in future years to achieve competitive advantage However, the ones who fail to adapt risk being relegated to managing technology portfolios.

To be successful in the era of empowerment, we recommend that CIOs adopt an iterative approach to BT strategy that begins and ends with the business, focusing on the following three main objectives:

1. Build EBT governance — or accept your status as a cost-centre
In this new environment, business leaders will expect the CIO to provide adequate technology governance while orchestrating technology sourcing and encouraging innovation.

The new governance requirements should facilitate the pursuit of new business opportunities and reduce impediments from IT processes while simultaneously achieving the value of both business flexibility and a stable, reliable technology base.

To do this successfully, IT must evolve new governance approaches that empower the business with guardrails and education, reserving strict technology control for only the most critical technology assets.

Rather than stifle empowered initiatives by forcing them through governance at the beginning, CIOs should aim to employ governance at the back end. The primary outcome from good governance should be an increase in business value from BT-enabled investments.

2. Encourage innovation — or expect to be bypassed
As technology becomes the most common interface between customers, suppliers, and employees, organizations must be prepared to harness the potential of digital business assets.

Successful CIOs will create opportunities for the organization to innovate and be willing to take risks with disruptive technologies to serve business needs.

In fact, while we estimate that traditional CIOs spend roughly five per cent of their time on this activity; in an EBT state, they will spend 15 per cent — a 200 per cent increase.

Encourage employees to innovate by providing them sandboxes and prototypes and ensuring a safety net.

Push them to be your primary source of innovation and breakthrough ideas. IT can also drive growth and revenue for the business by providing empowered customers with technology platforms that allow them to contribute to product development and build brand awareness.

3. Engage customers to grow the business — or be prepared to operate as a techie
Customers are the lifeblood of any business. Our research shows that a better customer experience drives improvement for three types of customer loyalty:

 - Willingness to consider another purchase
 - Likelihood of switching business to a competitor
 - Likelihood of recommending your company to a friend or colleague

All these can lead to millions of dollars of potential revenue. In the empowered era, the pressure is on you and your company to constantly evolve and transform its brand experience.

Success in the EBT state requires an obsessive focus on customer data, not just demographics, but also on pushing actionable intelligence to all edges of the organization.

To do this, CIOs will need to work with CMOs to form a new partnership between IT and marking.

By joining forces, these two teams can enable nimble and smart customer-facing programs, matching rapidly shifting customer needs and delivering near-instant customization based on deep knowledge of customers and their habits.

Given the increasing number of customer experience conversations occurring online, CIOs should also look to build technology and analytics infrastructure that can mine conversations occurring across a broad range of social media sources.

This will support gathering real-time opinion data about companies, products, customers, competitors, and employees. For example, Intel uses a listening platform to identify and learn from influential technology buyers within online communities.

Khalid Kark is vice president and research director at Forrester Research

Pic: Matt Preston cc2.0