The month of March has seen the release of no less than four pieces of research that all highlight one of the perennial challenges for CIOs: how to play a key role in shaping business strategy and driving innovation when most of their time and resources are consumed by day-to-day activities and keeping the lights on.
A survey of over 200 CIOs and IT directors by communications solutions provider Calyx found that only 16% of respondents spend their time driving the development of business through IT while just 11% say they mainly focus on developing strategic concepts around IT to move their organisation forward. Compare this to the 46% who said that they mainly spend their time on fire-fighting issues such as day-to-day management of IT and ensuring system availability, and you start to see the problem.
CA Technologies recently published the results of a survey of 1,300 “senior IT leaders” across a number of industries in 21 countries. This told a similar story with only 14% of respondents saying that driving new business initiatives was a top priority and just 11% saying that developing new, innovative products/services was a focus for them. And, not surprisingly, the survey found that the more traditional IT tasks such as maintaining infrastructure and applications (41%) and fixing problems as they arise (35%) are where IT leaders are spending most of their time.
Next there is a survey of 420 global business leaders commissioned by Red Hat and performed by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, which found that while 57% of executives believe that their CIO should drive innovation and strategy, only 12% say their CIO actually does that. That is quite a gap between what businesses expect from their CIO and what they are actually getting.
And finally, a survey of 119 CIOs by analyst firm Constellation found that reducing the cost of IT delivery remained the number one priority for 45% of CIOs with just 22% saying that bringing innovation to the business was their main focus. Interestingly though, when Constellation asked the same CIOs where they think they should be spending their time, 44% said innovation while only 9% said cost reduction.
So, other executives expect their CIO to be focusing on more strategic and value-adding activities and many CIOs think they should be spending more time in these areas too, yet IT leaders are still spending the majority of their time on the day-to-day running of their organisations’ infrastructure and systems.
There have been countless survey and research papers in the past that have highlighted the same issue. In a previous article titled The CIO’s strategic dilemma I drew on the findings of two such surveys to highlight the problem facing CIOs in the digital age; businesses need the ability to respond quickly to changing market conditions, customer preferences or competitor activity but a high proportion of CIOs’ time is spent on running existing infrastructure and applications. The digital business cannot wait for its CIO to catch-up before it acts so other business functions are forced to take matters into their own hands and go directly to the vendors of the services they need and bypassing the IT function in the process.
One of those surveys also asked CIOs about their appetite for outsourcing various parts of their IT estate. Considering that 73% of respondents said they wanted to spend at least half of their time on strategic activities it was very surprising to see that over half of them also said they would not consider outsourcing their network infrastructure while 41% said that the management and support of servers and storage should be kept in-house and 48% would retain responsibility for the provision of network services. This prompted me to write a second article that asked Are CIOs reluctant to let go? In this post I questioned whether CIOs actually wanted to let go of the underlying technology even though it is consuming time and resources that could otherwise be spent on the areas that add real value to their organisations.
The fact that we keep seeing research findings about CIOs struggling to become more strategic shows that something needs to change. CIOs need to do something differently otherwise they will continue to face the same problem and will risk being sidelined in favour of other executives who can spend their time thinking about how technology can be used to create value and grow revenue. This is why my book, Disrupt IT, defines a new model for IT in the digital age; CIOs need to reinvent the IT function and their own roles for the digital business. They cannot keep saying they want to be strategic whilst at the same time being reluctant to radically change the shape, structure and role of the IT function and how they spend their own time.
CIOs need a new model for IT to ensure they can finally break away from managing day-to-day issues and keeping the lights on to generating value, creating new revenue streams and driving growth. But the wider business also needs this new model as having a CIO and IT function that is being bypassed by the rest of the business is likely to expose the organisation to risks, problems and additional costs further down the line.
There is no shortcut to becoming a digital business. Shadow IT, CDOs, other functions dealing directly with IT vendors, etc may bring short-term benefits but they do not address the underlying issues; you need the right platform, the right type of CIO and the right type of IT function to be a sustainable digital business. The rest of the organisation needs a new model for IT just as much as the CIO does. But CIOs need the support of the rest of the business to transform the IT function and their roles. This will take commitment, support and a willingness to change throughout the organisation. But the result will be worth it: a CIO and IT function that can play a central role in shaping and leading the digital transformation of the business – something that all organisations will need to survive and succeed in the digital age.
Disrupt IT is available from Amazon in print and Kindle formats. Country links are listed below: