Monday, 20th January 2020

Putting the CIO at centre stage

We operate in a world where connectivity is expected, and often taken for granted. With the explosion of enterprise technology, business structures have progressed in leaps and bounds – long gone are the days where CIOs simply operated in the background to keep networks up and running. With disruptive technologies transforming and even defining huge swathes of business operations, the traditional role of the CIO has had to adapt – taking them from a back-office ‘network plumber’ to the front and centre of the business. By Jonquil Hackenberg, Head of C-Suite Advisory at Infosys Consulting.

Thanks to the volume of technologies introduced in the last few years, and the new business models that they have enabled, the role of the CIO is drastically different from what it once was. Now, CIOs must stake their claim as a central and strategic place in the business hierarchy.

The changing role of information

Data has changed from being an important fuel for an enterprise to becoming 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. If they can’t, they face being pushed out by rivals with a nimbler and bolder approach to data.

It’s no wonder that the concept of a CIO’s role has changed in line 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 “rockstar CIO”

Traditionally, much of a CIO’s time was focused on controlling costs – the eternal balance between 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 an organisation’s ability to harness data to deliver new and better products or services.

With consumer demands changing from day to day, businesses are under enormous pressure to be agile and to adopt new, more flexible, 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 no longer merely chief information officers, but rather 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.

Achieving greatness

In the digital age, the CIO’s success is measured not only by what they build, but how they change the business by developing new services and even entirely new business models. As a result, today’s business ecosystem calls for cross-functional experience and versatile capabilities. We are seeing a clear shift in the CIO’s responsibilities from buying and managing fixed assets to managing a range of services such as infrastructure, applications, and security. Those who exploit these resources and integrate them most effectively will have a major head-start on their competitors.

The legacy, siloed IT organisation is fast disappearing. In its place, technology experts will work hand-in-hand with the core business functions 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.

In this, the CIO role should 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 develop a deep understanding of other business departments, and forge strong relationships with 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.

Perhaps the single most powerful step 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 – and start to make the ‘rockstar’ impact their business requires.

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.

If CIOs take these steps they’ll have every opportunity to win themselves a reputation as business saviours. Only then can they become the rockstars who can orchestrate real transformational change in their organisation.

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