The modern CIO is accountable for a vast number of business decisions - one of particular value is the freedom to make strategic technology decisions that will enable the business to grow and remain agile. But with responsibility comes challenges and it has historically been the CIO that’s steered the business through unchartered waters – choosing to rely on familiarity of technology they know well, or make educated decisions about potential risks.
However, the proliferation of the cloud has meant that in todays complicated enterprise environments, it’s made sense for businesses to rely on third parties to manage their data, or undertake essential maintenance functions of their infrastructure. This expanding IT eco-system can sometimes leave the CIO feeling powerless to make strategic decisions - instead they are left feeling pressured to make the most ‘cost effective’ choice in order to tick the corporate box.
In short, the outsourcing of many functions and processes together with the growth of cloud computing has led to a change in authority over data. The IT world is no longer about physical servers to which a CIO holds the keys – and CIOs are adapting to a new style of leadership.
As part of our work, we’re in touch with thousands of CIOs in multinational companies of all sizes, in a range of industries. Over the years we’ve witnessed changes in the role of the CIO. Originally, the CIO was responsible for automation, as well as management and operation of the company’s processes. Today, this is a prerequisite, but not enough to survive in the new world.
The CIO as “Head Technology Hunter”
Today’s CIOs must be focused on developing technology-empowered business strategies. Even if the company isn’t an ‘Early Adapter’, the CIO must be at the forefront of technology and must be the one who brings the company to that point.
They are responsible for business outcomes no less than any other member of the board. Leading a business is no longer about focusing on operational systems, it is about analysing and identifying market trends, generating knowledge and insights, forecasting causes and effects of business activities and finding and implementing systems that will proactively advance the company. For example, the CIO can initiate a dedicated system that will identify and issue a warning about dissatisfied customers that might leave in the future, or a system that monitors changes in customer behaviour.
Unfortunately, this revolution hasn’t happened everywhere. There are many obstacles preventing CIOs from implementing these principles. Often it is because they are busy putting out fires and taking care of ongoing maintenance of information systems instead of hunting for innovations. Sometimes the added value the CIO can give the company has to be pointed out. It’s the CIO’s job to be the professional umbrella, the person responsible for promoting everything linked to technology and in possession of a broad vision of company needs and appropriate solutions.
Changing the internal perception of the CIO
The CIO’s place in the organisation is also changing. The role can be perceived as an IT Strategy Leader. VPs of sales or marketing are no longer the only ones responsible for the company’s results. The IT manager should be the CEO’s aide-de-camp in expanding the company. The CIO needs to identify trends inside and outside the company, to define new initiatives and to discover any barriers or problems involving the company’s automation and the advanced capabilities that information systems enable.
The CIO should harness technology knowledge from other key players in the organisation. There is no reason why the initiative to buy a new application shouldn’t come from any of the company’s departments, especially since the internal customer’s understanding of technology is so high today. Non-IT managers, such as marketing and HR, are always on the lookout for new technological tools to spend their time in the most efficient way – and so the CIO must utilise this knowledge and collaborate with other executives to select new technologies. However, only the IT manager has the broad, professional vision necessary to decide. If systems are incompatible, reporting becomes complex or almost impossible. This is where leadership on the part of the CIO comes in.
Streamlining systems and creating time to think
The good news for CIOs is that business management systems are evolving even further to support their role as a ‘Technology Hunter.’ Firstly, in order to free up the CIO to take the company’s technology strategy to the next level, it’s important to have a reliable, integrative and easy to operate system with all of the company’s information in one place. A system which is open to new integrations but also capable of keeping data integrative will make sure that data is consistent, and managed in a flexible and responsive way.
Secondly, CIOs need not fear putting their business management system in the cloud. One of the main issues is concerns of losing control over different aspects of system management, such as upgrades. Large companies that are bound by regulations are afraid of this process and prepare for it by strict backups and tests. This is where private cloud works best in the initial stage: on one hand they free themselves of maintenance responsibilities, but on the other hand they still have a reasonable amount of control.
Thirdly, a major demand of information systems today from the C-Suite is to provide the ability to draw conclusions and even deliver business insights. IT systems today are asked to incorporate intelligence abilities that not only analyse past performance, but generate forecasts and make recommendations to managers based on this type of predictive analysis. Intelligent technology at this level forms the basis of a strong and resilient IT department, and in turn frees up time for both the CIO and IT staff to focus their efforts on exciting projects which are targeted at growing the business and staying ahead of the competition.
About the author
Andres Richter is the CEO of Priority Software and has more than 15 years of experience in the IT world. He started his career at Ness Technologies, a leading IT and system integrator, where he worked for over a decade in a variety of senior executive positions, the last of which was CFO and COO of Ness Israel. Following that, he served as a business development consultant for startups and technology companies, and managed a software development services company.