The new CIO reality - reputational risk from IT problems will be a big factor in the changing role

It’s not been a great week for public perceptions of technology.

First, yet another major sporting event had problems selling tickets. The Glasgow Commonwealth Games ticketing website crashed in a burst of embarrassment – there is little coincidence in the fact the site was run by Ticketmaster, provider of the equally problematic London 2012 Olympics ticket service.

Then eBay revealed one of the most high-profile cyber attacks yet – its entire customer database of passwords, emails and home addresses was compromised earlier this year. The website is justifiably being criticised for taking so long to discover the breach – which took place in February and March – and for releasing so little details of the nature of the attack. Questions are rightly being raised about how effective are the security controls at one of the world’s most popular online shopping destinations.

When IT goes bad these days, it makes it onto the main TV news programmes. The BBC’s technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones is becoming an increasingly common sight on the News at Ten to explain why things went wrong and what is being done about it.

For companies and services that rely so heavily on IT – and what business doesn’t – reputational risk has to be factored into their business and technology planning.

Late last year in the US, retailer Target was hit by one of the largest security breaches in history – 70 million records stolen by hackers, including details of 40 million credit and data debit cards. Both the CIO and CEO of the company have since been forced to resign – an unprecedented act of contrition, but one that is only likely to happen again.

The BBC’s former chief technology officer, John Linwood, is currently in the midst of court action against the broadcaster after he was sacked as a result of the failed £100m Digital Media Initiative. Linwood insists he was made a scapegoat for wider failings.

IT – and IT leaders – are first in the firing line now when security breaches occur or technology goes badly and publicly wrong. For all the talk that digital business and consumerisation of technology is changing the role of the CIO, nothing heightens the expectations on the IT chief more than the exposure of reputation-ruining problems.

Lots of factors are changing the role of IT and its practitioners. But nobody should underestimate the impact of heightened public and executive awareness as one of the biggest influences on the future of IT in business.