The role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) is one that has seen continuous change over the years, yet we are only just beginning. Next up is the digital revolution, already a train which we all have to jump onto. It is providing our companies with an opportunity to add amazing new capability, and new business opportunities in ways we never planned or could have predicted.
The digital revolution has already changed how we use technology, and how we think about business models. However today we have many new challenges that have to be managed. These changes are only accelerating, and businesses already assume the CIO will be a leader in this change and not just someone who keeps up.
The shift in the nature of the CIO’s role is most influenced by a changing technology and business landscape encompassing disruptive technologies such as social, mobile, cloud computing and big data and analytics. For years as IT leaders, we have all tried to get the business out of talking about technology and to talk about “requirements”. While this worked in the past, it no longer works today because technology capability is the driver of the change. When is the last time you heard someone say my business requirement is to “communicate with near-real time co-workers and business partners”? Never (at least not anymore). Most are educated in what social and cloud are. What we as IT leaders need to do is to learn the business of the company, and to continue to educate on how we can leverage technology to benefit the customer.
More than ever, it’s all about the customer and their expectations of how they will interact with our companies. This is where the CIO has the biggest opportunity to grow and drive change, and to transition from a back-office function to one that drives customer experiences. Sure the traditional IT department is still around, and driving improved user productivity and reducing operating costs continues to be critical. However, where an IT department might never have faced customers before, its newest priority is customers.
The focus has shifted from technology and vendors to the end customers who buy and use the organization’s goods and services, and the shareholders. Technology is not a differentiator, how we leverage it is. CIO’s must recognize that it’s not about the ERP system, rather about what the business process is that drives its design. If we implement the best ERP system in the world, with archaic business processes that mandate significant manual work, nothing will be able to save us. Today’s CIO must embrace innovation and customer engagement as it’s all about the customer's experience.
Motivating and Retaining The Workforce
As always, the single most important task of any leader is attracting, maintaining, and developing skilled, enthusiastic people – not which ERP system we are using. This is becoming more challenging every year, as the choices available to candidates are increasing as the economy becomes more stable and growing. In addition, as technology continues to eliminate some roles with the advent of better automation, it is estimated that over 2 million new IT jobs will be created making hiring that much more challenging. Today’s CIOs not only must be focused on salary and status, but also newer motivators like offering flexible work schedules, challenging work assignments, frequent performance feedback/encouragement, and career development opportunities (often on a quicker time schedule than previous generations are accustomed to).
Building Business Relationships
Building successful relationships with “the business” or “the internal customer” is nothing new, but today CIOs are faced with a complex combination of ever-changing business directives, the constant pace of technology innovation, and alignment of technology solutions with business goals. Now more than ever, the key to success for CIOs is understanding the business’ imperatives and applying that understanding to shape IT’s approach to providing valuable services to the organization.
This can’t be stressed enough. We are no longer talking about IT being “aligned” to the business. That thinking and strategy will lead to failure in today’s digital-first economy. The entire IT organization and that of the CIO, must be completely integrated into the business and not simply aligned. If I were to ask anyone in your IT organization what the top five business goals are, can they tell me? If not that’s a real issue. Inversely if I ask any business leader what does IT do for you, I sure hope they can answer that positively. This is all about people, relationships and having the same set of goals. Further, it is important for CIOs and IT leaders to be able to identify people in their own organization with the skills to engage and partner with stakeholders in the business – at all levels.
Cost Efficiency or Innovation?
CIOs have the opportunity to mix people, business relationships, solution partners, technology, and lead innovation while efficiently “keeping the lights on” for the organization. Perhaps that is the greatest challenge for CIOs as he needs to balance both ends of the book. Gartner calls this Bimodal IT, and it’s a critically important concept – IT must simultaneously operate two different ways at two different speeds. Some IT projects and initiatives are predictable, such as modernizing a legacy environment. Some are an experiment and must be run in an agile way as there is a significant unknown in which a hypothesis must be tested. CIO’s must maintain an expected and stable operation while moving forward and building the future.
So, what’s next for the CIO? Driving business value is now a priority and that gives the CIO a dual role. One of technology manager, and one of business influencer. There are examples of the CIO moving into business roles and even CEO roles. I believe over time this will blur even more, as many CEO’s will have been successful CIO’s, and today’s CIO’s have to be unnamed co-CEOs.
About the Author:
Stuart Kippelman is a highly acclaimed business and technology leader in the U.S., and is the former Senior Vice President and Global CIO at Platform Specialty Products, based in Florida. Currently, Stuart is an Advisor to SRKay Consulting Group, for technology & globalization strategy.
Stuart has an illustrious track record receiving multiple industry awards including Top 100 CIOs in STEM 2015, Computerworld's 2014 Premier 100 IT Leader Award, and the CIO Top 100 Award in 2012, 2013 and 2014 in areas such as business and ERP transformation, cloud migrations and business intelligence. Stuart has been a WSJ guest columnist and a featured blogger on Computerworld.com. He is an author and holds multiple patents in data mining, and business intelligence. As an accomplished speaker, he has frequently presented at many major industry conferences.