Can you sack your IT department?

To avoid the IT department being marginalised, the role of the CIO needs to change, according to Carl Bate, the chief technology officer at Cap Gemini.

"In 1989 the only person who could put IT in front of a person to do their job was the IT director; 20 years on people can get IT from anywhere," he said. "The low number of CIOs who are on the board of their companies suggests to me that there's something wrong with the role itself - at a time when IT and information is so important to the business."

He added: "It feels to me like the IT department is almost trying to breed a better dinosaur. Business is not compartmentalised any more and neither can IT be. IT will get decentralised into departments; that's already happening."

Many of the promised advantages of cloud computing and the full range of software, platforms and infrastructure delivered as services are still years away; analysts Burton Group call the cloud "still adolescent at best, and suitable only for some classes of use. True enterprise computing (with all its security, risk, and performance requirements) will always require an in-house footprint for certain classes, tiers, or components of applications."

Advantageous delivery

For many companies, IT delivers significant competitive advantage. Instead of using the same service as a competitor they're trying to differentiate themselves from, companies may mix and match cloud and in-house systems or shift to what Microsoft calls a Software Plus Services model, where cloud services add value to on-premise systems.

Avanade's chief technology officer (CTO) Michael Paulson points out that previous changes in business technology haven't done away with the need for in-house IT. "Many organisations still have mainframes that have been running for over fifteen years," he said.

The balance will be different for every business, but a hybrid of in-house and in-cloud systems is most likely, and for that, you certainly need your IT department.

Mary Branscombe

Mary is a freelance business technology journalist who has written for the likes of ITPro, CIO, ZDNet, TechRepublic, The New Stack, The Register, and many other online titles, as well as national publications like the Guardian and Financial Times. She has also held editor positions at AOL’s online technology channel, PC Plus, IT Expert, and Program Now. In her career spanning more than three decades, the Oxford University-educated journalist has seen and covered the development of the technology industry through many of its most significant stages.

Mary has experience in almost all areas of technology but specialises in all things Microsoft and has written two books on Windows 8. She also has extensive expertise in consumer hardware and cloud services - mobile phones to mainframes. Aside from reporting on the latest technology news and trends, and developing whitepapers for a range of industry clients, Mary also writes short technology mysteries and publishes them through Amazon.