Over the next year, we’re going to see CIOs step into the limelight, or step into oblivion. The choice is theirs! With cloud computing, mobile technologies and big data making a significant impact on business practices and revenues, the CIO’s technical expertise is increasingly called upon in the boardroom and across the business as functional heads look to embrace data, content and analytics in ways previously only dreamt of.

The IDG Enterprise Cloud Computing survey last year showed that spending on cloud now accounts for a third of IT budgets, and this is expected to grow by a further 16% this year. Why is this? It is partly due to business functions, such as marketing, embracing the cloud for innovative capabilities. It is also due to IT departments showing leadership across the business and taking the opportunity to leap forward with fantastic innovations, rather than having to take one small step at a time. Cloud computing enables companies to be bigger and better as they’re no longer confined to the four walls of the office - locked behind legacy systems and firewalls. With the ability to work from home, on the go or abroad securely, the cloud offers businesses the opportunity to be more flexible whilst cutting costs.

The need for speed, and innovation, is driving the move to the cloud. This is placing enormous stress on the shoulders of IT workers. They are torn between the need to drive security, process and efficiency while catering for the demand of innovation and responsiveness to the business.  With the cloud starting to dominate the business and IT landscape, IT workers need to align with the business or face the risk of being side-lined. Technology choice - and the associated budgets relating to IT maintenance, support and updates - are now placed firmly in the hands of the business user, removing the majority of what the IT department’s time and budget was previously spent on.

Alignment with the business is now delivering a new opportunity for IT workers worldwide to carve out new roles for themselves using Business Intelligence and analytics to drive change - and revenues - within their business. Tools from companies like Cloudera, Oracle, Salesforce.com or IBM are now enabling businesses to get better insight into their customers, what they like and what they find useful. This provides a platform to create important predictions for the business; minimising risk and identifying new revenue opportunities.

Savvy IT workers are utilising these analytics to create their own tools. Some organisations have already seen new revenue streams created by these products that have come directly out of the IT department.

What we’re seeing is a new breed of CIO and IT workers; combining analytics with other technologies to create new capabilities. For example, combining analytics with mobility for the field and sales operations or mixing analytics with social media to enhance customer engagement.

A good example of this is Gambling firm Betfair’s mobile app. It successfully increased sales via mobile applications by 88 percent across its 2011 financial year. It’s now recognised as a vital channel for the business.

This type of success has been replicated across many industries. Netflix used business analytics to create a recommendation service to its customers, making it easier for them to find films or TV shows they were more likely to watch. Business analytics forms an integral part of the roll-out of BC Hydro’s smart meters. And, P&G created its Business Sphere, which delivers business analytics to staff in real time, speeding up the decision-making process.

Analytics and business intelligence are now considered to be the top technology priority for CIOs and CFOs, according to recent report from Gartner. By mastering these tools and the opportunities they bring, IT workers can gain a new set of key skills to help them move up through the organisation.  It’s a rapidly expanding job market; recent research by E-Skills and SAS has found that jobs for big data staff has increased by 43 per cent over the last year, with a particular emphasis on technical skills.  IT workers quick to capitalise on this will see new doors opening their career, giving them the edge for that CIO role when it comes up!