At Forrester’s North America CIO Forum two weeks ago, Frank Gillett, Chris Mines, and I presented a point–counterpoint debate on “The CIO’s World in 2020.” We debated and analyzed four key dynamics regarding IT and the CIO’s role in the future, and asked the 325 attendees to vote on the outcome they think is most likely to occur. The audience members’ votes were extremely telling:

  • 80% believed that technology would still be differentiating. To set the stage for the audience vote, Frank argued that technology would be so commonplace and readily available via the cloud that a company’s ability to set itself apart via technology would be fleeting at best.  I took the opposite side, saying that while much of today’s transaction-based systems will be nothing more than table stakes, systems of engagement-based systems and technologies around analytics and smart products would be central to a firm’s ability to set itself apart in the eyes of customers. The audience overwhelmingly agreed with our call that systems of engagement and other technologies would be differentiating.
  • 85% agreed that most technology would be delivered via the public cloud. I kicked off this point by arguing that technology was too important not to be centrally designed, deployed, and managed by IT. Frank came at it stating that the velocity and variability of change required the use of public cloud-based services. The Forrester call was that companies will architect and deploy business solutions from a growing pool of external as-a-service resources, with IT playing the role of orchestrator.
  • 90% voted that central IT would NOT exist in the future. Frank made the case that by 2020, central IT would retake control of technology from the business.  I countered that as the technology becomes more important and the software is how customers experience the brand, IT will be directly embedded in business units like marketing, product development, and customer service. The call, and audience vote, was that the skills and structure of the IT organization will be recast. IT will be embedded in larger go-to-market, product development, manufacturing, and service organizations.
  • The audience was spilt on the role and the share of new versus incumbent vendors. Frank argued that today’s large suppliers would continue to dominate the tech landscape with a combination of their own R&D and acquisitions of startups. I made the counterclaim that it was not just the technology change but the business model changes that would be the undoing of the entrenched providers and fuel a whole new set of smaller more nimble providers. The Forrester call, and the audience sentiment, was to split the difference: Supplier portfolios will change dramatically, comprising both incumbent and innovative suppliers.

In terms of the forum attendee’s demographics: 70% were from end user companies with 65% of the firms having over $1 billion in annual revenues; 40% of the audience had the title of vice president or CIO and another 32% were director level.

On June 11 we will be continuing the debate in London at Forrester's Forum for CIOs EMEA. If you want to join the debate and cast your vote click here.