It is probably one of the most challenging and long-standing issues that CIOs face: how to be more strategic when most of their time and resources are consumed by day-to-day activities and keeping the lights on. And two recent surveys have not only provided a stark reminder of this dilemma, but have also highlighted how it is now more important than ever for CIOs to find an answer to their age-old conundrum.
Firstly the good news for CIOs: SunGard Availability Services recently published the results of a survey of 550 C-level and senior business decision makers, from organisations with more than 250 employees across the UK, France, Sweden and Ireland. The study found that CIOs are viewed by their peers as being the catalyst for creating competitive advantage with 69% of respondents saying that the CIO would be the source of new ways to communicate with customers and employees, while 67% said that the CIO would be key to understanding and improving the customer experience.
An impressive 97% said that aligning their initiatives with the IT department’s capability will yield some form of competitive advantage. Although I can’t help thinking that this is the wrong way round as organisations should really be aiming to align the capability of their IT function with the initiatives it needs to undertake to drive growth. But either way, it demonstrates that the rest of the C-suite recognise the importance of alignment with, and hence the involvement of, its IT department when implementing technology-enabled initiatives. And 95% of non-IT decision makers believe that their CIO has the necessary skills and expertise to operate at the strategic level.
So it appears the door is well and truly open for CIOs to play a leading role in driving the growth of their organisations. And CIOs are aware of this and want to be strategic. A recent survey of 186 CIOs in 24 countries spanning Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia-Pacific by Logicalis, an IT solutions and managed services provider, found that 73% of CIOs want to spend at least half of their time on strategic activities.
So what is preventing them from being strategic? The Sungard report identifies day-to-day activity within IT (46%) and lacking the necessary resource (51%) as being the main barriers that stop CIOs from being able to contribute to the broader business objectives. The Logicalis report quantifies this problem further; 53% of CIOs currently spend 70% or more of their time on day-to-day management of technology, while 80% spend at least half of their time on low value, non-strategic activity. No wonder then that many CIOs are finding it hard to operate at the strategic level of their organisation when such a high proportion of their time is spent on running its existing infrastructure and applications.
The dilemma has never been greater for CIOs; in the digital age other business functions are getting more involved in IT decisions and departments such as marketing are spending an increasing proportion of their budgets on technology. And they are buying services and solutions that directly contribute to understanding customer needs and enhancing the customer experience – the exact areas where the CIO wants to, and where the rest of the business thinks they should, be spending their time. But in the digital age, businesses need the ability to respond quickly to changing market conditions, customer preferences or competitor activity. They cannot wait for their CIO to catch-up before they act. So they are forced to take matters into their own hands and go directly to the vendors of the services they need and hence bypassing the IT function in the process.
The race is on for CIOs to solve their strategic dilemma once and for all. They need to free up the budget, time and resource they spend on maintaining and supporting the organisation’s current systems to focus on the areas where they can add real value to the business. If they can do this successfully (and quickly), then they can take their place at the forefront of their organisation’s strategic initiatives. If they fail to make this switch or they move too slowly, then the opportunity will pass them by and they risk being sidelined while other members of the C-suite take responsibility for the technology that drives the growth of the business.