The future is bright for those at the summit

sun_and_mountainThis year’s CIO Summit focused on the digital revolution that is sweeping through organisations across every sector, and society in general. Top CIOs from the public and private sector shared their thoughts and experiences of tackling the challenges that operating in a digital world have presented to them and their organisations.

CIO’s Editor in Chief, Mark Chillingworth, set the scene for the day by describing the significant impact that digital is having on consumer behaviour and business operations, and correctly observing that “for many organisations the digital revolution is uncomfortable or threatening.” And for those that don’t get their approach to digital right, it could be a lot worse. We have already seen established and long-standing brands fall by the wayside as a result of digital disruption. More will follow over the coming years as they struggle to innovate and transform their business models for the digital world.

This should be a golden age for CIOs; who else is better placed to play a leading role in helping to navigate through the digital maze than the organisation’s technology leader? And from the presentations it was clear to see that each of the CIOs that spoke at the CIO Summit is indeed playing a key role in the digital transformation of their organisations. And in doing so they are both helping position their organisations to prosper from the digital revolution and positioning themselves as broader business leaders.

Technology has never been more important to organisations; in the digital age disruptive technologies and trends such as cloud computing, consumerisation, big data, social media and mobile are transforming the use of technology within organisations, putting IT at the forefront of the customer experience and interaction, driving innovation in products and services, enabling new business models and underpinning business transformation.

And, as a result, organisations need leaders that understand how technology can be used to enable and transform business models, products and services. CIOs who successfully make the transition from technology leaders to technology and business leaders will become an increasingly valuable asset.

No wonder then that Barclays CIO, Anthony Watson, commented that “in the future we will see CEOs coming from the technology space as technology leaders understand the full width of the business much more deeply than any other roles in the business.” And, as further proof of the value of business-focused CIOs, one of his fellow speakers, JJ van Hoosten, announced that he was leaving his post as CIO at Travis Perkins to take up a much broader role at Rewe, Germany’s second-largest bricks and mortar food retailer with a remit to “boost the digitalisation of the business” in all Rewe formats. This also includes marketing and “the development of new online-based business ideas”.

But these are the top CIOs in the UK; they have reached the summit of their profession by evolving their roles, skills and departments. It is not like that in most organisations as Annrai O’Toole, CTO of Workday reminded us when he described some of the many challenges that his business faces when trying to work with IT departments. Summarising these challenges O’Toole said that “enterprise IT is too busy finding reasons not to do things, rather than how to do them.” He also contrasted enterprise IT with consumer IT describing the former as “struggling and slow” whilst consumer IT was “on fire”!

Two days after the CIO Summit I spoke about technology and the role of the board at an event hosted by the Institute of Company Secretaries and Administrators. During my presentation I talked about the need for CIOs and IT functions to transform to meet the needs of the digital business. These points were greeted by many nods of agreement during my talk and a number of the attendees approached me afterwards to confirm that their organisations were struggling to adapt to the digital world and that this was partly due to failings with their CIO and IT function. To underline this issue two people told me they had recently had to sit through CIO presentations to the board which included network and systems diagrams and other similarly technically focused material.

The 2013 CIO Summit shows us that the future for the top CIOs, those that have successfully made the transition from technology leaders to technology and business leaders is indeed bright. But for many others there is still much work to do to ensure they, their function and indeed their organisations remain relevant in the digital era.


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