CIOs and BYOD – a new leadership role for new times

"I think the CIO's got to give a little and then in return, he's then got to focus his energies in saying, 'I'm going to control this critical piece and I will then give people the opportunity to work off it,'" said Short.

In days gone by, it was reasonable to expect chief information officers (CIOs) to have virtually complete control over any and all of the IT systems operating within their companies. However, as discussed by panelists at September's Structure:Europe 2013 event, this iron grip is beginning to slip, according to GigaOM. This development is largely due to employees enthusiastically embracing the ever-increasing abundance of smartphones, tablets and similar devices – intermediary tools like phablets, for instance, which include Samsung's Galaxy Note and LG's Optimus G Pro and are considered phone/tablet hybrids.

For companies, a core part of this proliferation can be attributed to the rise of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend, which involves employees using their personal mobile devices a) in the workplace and b) to carry out work-related tasks using their businesses' networks, portals and the like. Some CIOs have adopted BYOD in light of what they see as the sweeping tide of change, while others are sticking by restrictive policies of uniformity, citing IT security concerns.

"You've got [CIOs] that are still fighting the battle, which is lock everything down, get control, don't allow 'bring their own device,' don't allow those services. Try and make things controlled and organized," explained Structure:Europe 2013 panel participant Simon Short, CTO and head of digital at Capgemini, as quoted by GigaOM. "And a different type where people are actually saying our job is about enablement. Our job is about how do we actually enable the different departments to do different things, the workforce to be able to use their own devices."

Ultimately, it is essentially impossible to outright banish personal devices from the workplace, and any efforts to do so typically create tension, noted ZDNet columnist Michael Krigsman. This is particularly the case if employees perceive their personal devices to be more advanced than the ones provided at work when it comes to speed, capability and other factors, as they feel their ability to do their jobs is being inhibited by sub-par technology.

The recognition of this fact is contributing to some leaders' decisions to embrace BYOD, despite the tall order of integrating a seemingly endless range of devices into corporate systems.

BYOD "inevitable"
Indeed, according to the Global IT Risks survey conducted last year by B2B International on behalf of Kaspersky, although just 50 percent of surveyed organizations said they planned to actively support and encourage BYOD, even those that were not in support of the trend conceded that it was "inevitable, whether encouraged or not."

Alexander Erofeev, Chief Marketing Officer at Kaspersky Lab, also described employees' use of personal devices to perform work-related tasks – such as connecting to corporate networks and tapping into sensitive data – as "inevitable" in his comments on the results of the survey. Erofeev cited the development of worker expectations in the increasingly interconnected modern world as a key driver of this phenomenon.

"For employees, it's natural to use their smartphones and tablets – without even considering the possible dangers," Erofeev said. "That's why companies need to implement security policies that safeguard both corporate and personal mobile devices."

Panel participant Matthew Finnie, CTO of Interoute, echoed Erofeev's analysis.

"The idea that people are going to give up the freedom they have with the smartphone – I think that battle is completely lost," he said, as quoted by GigaOM.

Balancing free device use with IT security needs
That said, CIOs still have a responsibility to secure the technology used in connection with corporate processes, as failure to do so can be catastrophic. Hacking, viruses and the like can swiftly bring even the biggest of companies to their knees, and CIOs should make every effort to shore up security infrastructures against such threats. Short suggested that these types of leaders pick their battles, empowering workers in one sense (allowing them to use the devices they prefer and are comfortable with) while simultaneously enacting strict controls over what's really important – maintaining IT security.

"I think the CIO's got to give a little and then in return, he's then got to focus his energies in saying, 'I'm going to control this critical piece and I will then give people the opportunity to work off it,'" said Short, according to the news source.

Clearly, the role of the CIO is changing. Quoted by GigaOM, Finnie and Short characterized this new position as "service provider." Meanwhile, Krigsman advocated casting off the idea of "chief gatekeeper" and instead embracing the term "chief innovation officer," calling innovation the secret weapon of CIOs grappling with BYOD and urging these types of leaders to remember that at its core, IT is about serving businesses.

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