Kishore Swaminathan

Accenture's chief scientist talks about redefining the CIO's territory, restructuring IT's role and bringing consumer power to corporations.

Accenture chief scientist Kishore Swaminathan envisions the advent of a new corporate IT department. It includes a continual shift away from building and maintaining enterprise applications and a new role for IT executives as chief intelligence officers. This new breed of IT executive will develop and oversee how companies collect, store, combine, share, analyze and capitalize on their most valuable corporate asset -- huge volumes of data.

What's driving this shift you foresee? Some of the drivers are well known, such as the increasing cost of maintaining legacy systems. As much as 50% of IT budgets is spent maintaining legacy systems and maintaining infrastructure.

There's also a recognition that a lot of things that companies and CIOs used to have to do are not value-added.

As we keep hearing more and more about things like Web 2.0 and how teenagers are using Facebook, companies are asking, "How can it be that the use of the same technology [that] is so empowering to the individual is so strategically unimportant to a company?"

IT has been revolutionary for individuals. They can work from anywhere, access information from anywhere, build social groups and publish for free. Meanwhile, the value of IT for corporations is always under debate. Such a mismatch is not sustainable in the long run.

Are changes happening already? Employees have Gmail accounts because their company mailboxes are too small for even company-related video. People are using Facebook to do company-related collaboration because it's easier. This is stepping into CIOs' territory.

Should CIOs be redefining their territory? The role of IT in most large companies got defined by Y2k, the recession that followed the dot-com bust and Sarbanes-Oxley. All three defined the role of IT and the job of the CIO as one of standardization and control -- minimizing risks and reducing costs.

But CIOs and business folks are seeing that IT is a terrible thing to waste. They have to go from using technology for standardization and risk minimization to using IT for reward maximization. They're seeing that happen in the consumer space and should be trying to reap the same benefits.

How? Eliminate what you do not have to do [internally]. Three to four years ago, CIOs had no option except to run a data center, no option but to run hardware and software internally. The one very important trend now is cloud computing -- hardware clouds, software clouds and process clouds.

Cloud computing basically enables the CIO to get rid of non-value added, non-differentiating things, starting with hardware infrastructure, followed by commodity software infrastructure, followed by desktop applications, which are now offered by Google.

So, what's left? The data. When you adopt a cloud [IT architecture], the data lives in different places across the Internet. You have to almost completely rethink how you manage and govern data that lives in multiple places. IT has to define the data governance policy and build a port around the data to keep it clean. IT, as the data port commander, ensures privacy and security and deals with compliance issues related to data.

And the CIO? The CIO used to be the chief infrastructure officer. If not infrastructure officers, they were applications officers. Now they have to take control of data and evolve into the chief intelligence officer.

Basically, the argument that I'm making is that for CIOs to move up the curve, they have to get rid of things they're currently doing so they can focus on bringing the same power IT has in the consumer space to the corporate space. If, for example, a CIO can standardize a mashup development environment and make data from back-end systems easily available, they empower the end user to build the applications they need.

What do you see as the key technologies on the horizon? One is the emergence of a new protocol called article comments.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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