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November 10, 2015updated 28 Mar 2017 4:02pm

The three types of CIO: infrastructure, information and innovation

The role of the CIO, and of the IT department, is changing fast.

By John Oates

Just a few years ago running an IT department was all about controlling costs, restrictions and saying no. The job was all about stopping people abusing the internet, saying no to mobile devices attaching to corporate networks and reducing spending whether it was on printer costs or bandwidth.

An ideal IT department had standards and templates for everything and did its best to never stray far from these pre-set limits.

But then IT became about more than just costs and budgets. It moved to centre stage of most businesses. The company website was not just a new-fangled marketing add-on but a central sales channel.

Mobile internet and email access became the norm, not just for directors but for everyone.

Software development was not just a cost to be offshored but a key part of corporate strategy. Creating and updating mobile applications is now a fact of life for all but the smallest companies. In some cases they’re actually replacing websites as the primary method of communicating with customers.

The other important change is in information and data. This used to be a cost – running databases and archiving or shredding files for instance.

Now information is the lifeblood of many businesses. Crunching that data quickly and effectively and turning that into business decisions is crucial for today’s IT department.

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Today’s CIO still needs to keep the infrastructure up and running and they still need to keep a handle on costs. But he or she will get credit for innovating, not for infrastructure.

And in order to innovate the CIO needs to think strategically about where the business is going, and how it will get there.

The move to strategy needs a change in mindset. But it doesn’t require staff to throw out their previous experience. Skills and training need to stay up-to-date of course but there are still important lessons to be learnt from the past.

The fundamentals of project management remain the same whether the end result is a back-end system or a mobile application.

The trouble with the future is it keeps on changing.

Today’s CIO needs to keep their eyes on their internal and external customers in order to continue to meet their needs. If that means staff want to bring their own devices into work or want to use tablets in place, or alongside, desktop machines then the IT department needs to make that happen safely and securely.

If that means the business communicates via a mobile app instead of a call centre then there are opportunities, as well as risks, for any company making that move. The challenge for CIOs is staying ahead of this ever-changing curve.

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