IT departments are being marginalized by SaaS, IaaS, PaaS and the rest of the cloud-driven “aaS”es. At least that’s what some are suggesting, like Scott Bils at InformationWeek. And I’m inclined to agree, at least in spirit, if not in the specifics.

Highly automated IT services give end users do-it-yourself options — or perhaps more accurately, do-IT-yourself options — that undermine the value IT departments have traditionally delivered. And that means chief information officers and the rest of the IT team must adapt to meet changing demands and expectations — or risk becoming marginalized into irrelevance.

The way I see it, most CIOs today operate in a largely tactical capacity for a relatively naïve user base. That leaves them to oversee fundamental responsibilities such as technology provisioning, break/fix support, software and hardware upgrades and operational support (including email), application support and password management.

Overcoming Tactical Irrelevance

But that’s going to change going forward. As the workforce grows more sophisticated and tech-savvy, the responsibilities of CIOs will grow more sophisticated as well. Expect tomorrow’s CIOs to provision game-changing technology, deliver competitive advantage for their business, and introduce new products and services to grow the business.

The shift in responsibilities will demand a shift in capabilities, and many CIOs would be well served by brushing up on some critical skill sets, including:

  • Enterprise security – To protect the enterprise from security attacks and breaches, CIOs need to be well versed in IT security and compliance.
  • Project management – Delivering large and complex technology projects will demand CIO expertise in IT project management.
  • Financials – CIOs must have corporate financial skills to understand budgeting and expense management.
  • Data management – Turning enterprise data into valuable business information will require CIOs to roll up their sleeves and dig into big data and little data opportunities.
  • Legal – Legal skills will ensure CIOs understand regulations, data storage and retention policies, privacy policies and other contractual issues impacting their companies.

CIOs eyeing the future will find golden opportunities to become game-changers for their organizations. If they want to take full advantage of the opportunity, though, they need to reposition themselves within the organization, shifting from technology tactician to strategic technology visionary.

Stockpiling Popular Skillsets

As for the rest of the IT team members, they would also be well served by expanding their skill sets. This year’s Computerworld Forecast survey reveals that application development — including mobile application development — will remain the IT industry’s hottest skill in 2014 and likely beyond.

Mobility continues to have a huge impact on IT decisions, whether those decisions concern business-to-business or business-to-consumer use cases. Just about everybody has a smartphone today. And just about every company wants to ensure its products and services are available to an ever-growing mobile audience. Networking, business intelligence and analytics, and project management are also in demand.

Apart from technical capabilities, the Forecast survey suggests that IT staffers of every persuasion improve their chances of success by honing some key people skills — specifically, the ability to collaborate and the ability to communicate with business users. Why? You must be able to work effectively on projects that demand several IT team members and/or several IT disciplines. And you have to put IT services in terms business users understand. Master those two skills, and business users will have a hard time replacing you with an “aaS.”

Raj Sabhlok is the president of Zoho Corp., which is the parent company of and ManageEngine. Follow him @rajsabhlok.