Only a few years ago, it seemed there were few jobs less glamorous than that of the CIO. These staid, cautious creatures were often regarded as little more than “network plumbers” – back office operatives whose role was largely to keep the lights on, ensure that various data pipes were connected, and avert the business from downtime and disaster. How things have changed – and how suddenly!
Thanks to the volume of disruptive new technologies introduced in the last few years, and the new business models that they have enabled, the CIO has been catapulted from relative obscurity to a central and strategic place in the business hierarchy.
The role of information has changed from an important lubricant or fuel for an enterprise, to the very cornerstone of new business models and even entire industries. No sector has escaped the disruption wrought by the information revolution, often and aptly described as “Uberisation”.
Only organisations that can harness large volumes of data and use it to feed new technologies such as AI and analytics, have a hope of cornering their market and keep from being crowded out by rivals with a nimbler and bolder approach to data.
It’s no wonder that the conception of CIOs’ role has changed in step with these developments. Where once their unofficial motto was “No-one ever got fired for buying IBM”, it’s now much closer to Mr Zuckerberg’s infamous “Move fast and break things”.
Rise of the “Rock Star CIO”
Traditionally, much of a CIO’s time was focused on controlling costs – the eternal balancing of the twin priorities of minimising expenditure and ensuring their business had the right equipment to achieve its organisational goals. Today, however, business strategy is increasingly based on the organisation’s ability to harness data to deliver new and better products or services.
With consumer demands changing almost from day to day, businesses are under enormous pressure to be agile and to adopt new, more flexible and data-based business models that can react almost instantly to changing market demands. Only the CIO has the expertise to deliver this.
As a result, today’s CIO has no choice but to come out of the shadows of the server room and take up a unique role: one that bestrides the boardroom and the back office.
Such is the importance of data in today’s “Uberised” business landscape that CIOs are now not merely chief information officers, but chief innovation officers or heads of business transformation.
In other words, they are the rock stars of the corporate culture – highly-visible celebrities who will be lionised if they deliver the foundation for business success, and anathematised if they fail to deliver.
A Guide to Achieving CIO Greatness
Some CIOs are born great, others achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
Whether they like it or not, the CIO now occupies one of the most important and highly-visible positions in their business; it is only by embracing their situation that they can hope to achieve rock star status. Luck and judgement will both play their parts, but a CIO can give themselves the best chance of success by adopting the following recommendations:
Focus on Integrated Services
In the digital age, the CIO’s success is measured not only by what they build, but the services that they develop and integrate into the business. We are seeing a clear shift from buying and managing fixed assets to one who manages a range of services (e.g. infrastructure, application, and security). Those who exploit these resources and integrate them most effectively will have a major head-start on their competitors.
Create New Hybrid Functions
Today’s business ecosystem calls for cross-functional experience and versatile capabilities. The CIO role should therefore be heavily connected with global services functions such as marketing, HR, finance, procurement, sales and supply chain to ensure the best possible organisational agility. Incumbents must forge strong relationships with, and develop a deep understanding of, other business departments (and their leaders) to be successful. It’s interesting to note that recent research by MIT found that CIOs now spend about 40 per cent of their time engaging with non-IT peers.
Align Your Digital Strategy
The CIO is responsible for hiring the Chief Digital Officer (CDO), an indispensable role for the modern, forward-looking business. The CDO is responsible for orchestrating digital innovations, and collecting, feeding and growing disruptive products and services. In concert with the CIO, this role can help lead the transition to new digitally-enabled opportunities that will unlock the power of algorithms and automated, intelligent workflows that will transform business operations.
The legacy, siloed IT organisation is fast-disappearing. In its place, technology experts will work hand-in-hand with the business to drive innovation. The shift to data-driven processes means that businesses and technology must work closely together to craft use cases and differentiated processes – but this all rests on removing the barriers towards effective information sharing across premises and departments, which must be a strategic priority for CIOs.
Combining Standardisation with Decentralisation
Perhaps the single most powerful steps CIOs can take is to free their organisation’s data from its applications. Creating a single “system of record” for data, applications, and web services, CIOs can dramatically reduce the time needed to stitch together new business use cases.
If CIOs follow these five rules, they have every opportunity to win themselves a reputation as business saviours – the rock stars who can orchestrate transformational change in their organisation.