All change for top IT chief role
CIOs have focused for too long on the task of building reliable business systems out of unreliable components and need instead to concentrate on issues that really matter to the executive.
“Decision support for the board is where a CIO needs to be investing most of their time and effort,” Peter Cochrane former CTO for BT told us. With the technology that’s available to model a business and its competition, there is no reason for executives to be flying blind. The CIO ought to be taking the lead in checking out the impact of decisions before they are made, he said.
Talking as a panelist at an IBM-sponsored roundtable discussion on the changing role of the CIO, the former BT boss said it was high time that CIOs focused their attentions on solving problems that would bring the biggest benefits to the business.
Service delivery is a critical factor, but need not be a primary focus for IT. There are some new challenges facing business, and it will fall to the CIO to find a solution.
Cochrane explained that technology industry had long been one that’s been shaped from the top-down with enterprise developments filtering through to consumer markets for mass adoption. “That’s all changed now, as we’ve seen with the emergence of wikis and socials networks.” The task facing large corporation CIOs is getting these to scale to the enterprise level, so they can be exploited and used to connect internal expertise.
Technology can burst through departmental walls and functional silos to enable the highest level of collaboration across an organisation.
Cochrane was talking alongside David Henderson of IBM, another commentator on the CIO remit who argued that there were three threads of change that are driving changes to the role.
“One is around service,” he said, and the increasing levels of responsibility being placed on CIOs to sustain key business processes through shared services. “Another is the pivotal role the CIO has in driving the business change agenda and enterprise-wide transformational programmes.”
The third concerns the development of a well-articulated IT plan which aligns with a business strategy that increasingly depends on IT as a source of innovation.
Innovation does not mean new technology necessarily, the panelists agreed. It could be some new angle on a business process discipline, or new approach in change leadership.
Simon Post CTO at The Carphone Warehouse argued that the calibre of the CIO was on the rise, and that a high performing CIO is now very well placed to make the step up into the boardroom. CIOs have a 360 degree view of the business, and there’s a need for someone like that in every boardroom. Post commented that this is in step with the increasing levels of reliance that businesses place on technology, and on the reliability of the business services it underpins.
Peter Morris of the Debenhams retail chain agreed, saying that although IT shops can sometimes have a skewed view of what matters to the business at any one time, the CIO is perfectly placed to see how technology can accelerate the operation of all business processes.
And importantly, there is still much that can be done to use technology to help the bottom line. “Cash is king. We need to be seen to be making changes that generate cash in the business.”
Cochrane contends CIO should be looking to offload the provisioning of services by outsourcing them, and developing processes to let organisations collaborate better with external partners.
He said a great example of is how some PC games developers use crowd-sourcing to test and debug new software quicker and cheaper than could be achieved through traditional test procedures.
For the CIO, the challenge is to find ways that not just allow external collaboration, but make partners and vendor staff feel as though they are being treated in the same way as retained employees, so that everyone feels bonded to the same business.
It calls for fluidity in communications across the resource pool whether these are onshore, near-shore or offshore.
The panel mooted that today’s CIO is a problem-solver, a people person with business and leadership skills as well as technological ability.
They have to display all the subtlety and sophistication of an instinctive entrepreneur, as well as come across as someone with the ambition to envisage change and the power to influence it.