Technology has never been so important, so strategic and so fundamental to businesses as it is in the digital age. Technologies such as social, mobile and cloud are enabling new and disruptive business models, and have helped move technology from being a back-office function that supports operations to a front line service contributing directly to the bottom line.
But the growing importance of technology has brought with it new pressures for CIOs and their departments; technology is now more accessible to non-IT staff, awareness and knowledge of its application within the enterprise has never been higher and, as a result, neither have expectations about what can be achieved in terms of functionality and speed of delivery.
And there is clear evidence that expenditure on technology by non-IT functions is growing and will continue to do so as organisations invest in digital initiatives. The CIO no longer has the power to just say no to other functions who hold their own IT budget and can procure technology and services directly from vendors without having to involve their IT colleagues.
It is not surprising therefore that many commentators, analysts and even some CIOs themselves hold the view that the role is now more difficult than it ever has been and that the level of difficulty will continue to increase for the foreseeable future.
But they’re wrong…
Awareness and understanding of technology amongst non-IT personnel has certainly improved and technology is now much higher up on the agenda of the organisation’s senior management team as a result. But this means the CIO is no longer the only person in the C-suite interested in, or excited by, the potential of technology. The CIO does not therefore have to fight to get IT discussed in the boardroom as they would have had done in the past.
New systems and services can be accessed in much shorter timescales than has previously been possible and without the need for high levels of capital expenditure or the need to acquire, build and deploy expensive hardware and software. Vendors can take away the headache of providing, supporting and managing the underlying infrastructure, servers, storage and databases so that CIOs can focus time and resources on areas where they can add real value to the business. And other executives are now willing to argue the case for increased IT expenditure and to take accountability for the technology investments they make.
Businesses now understand the value of data and how it can be used to create insights, support decisions and help design new products and services. And they understand the need for strong security and are giving the CIO more budget to ensure their systems and data are protected.
So the CIO role is not getting more difficult but it is changing. The CIO is no longer the gatekeeper of the technology budget and the provider of all technology used by the business. Instead the CIO is now required to act as a broker, providing advice, guidance and access to the technology required by the rest of the business. They set the overall direction for technology in the business and they provide the other technology budget holders with insights about what technology is available and what it can do. And they also provide the CEO and the board with assurance that the technology investments proposed by the rest of the business are consistent with the overall platform, architecture and goals of the business.
With technology being used throughout the organisation to support digital transformation and with the CIO setting the direction for this investment, the CIO will have more influence on the organisation as a whole. The role is therefore becoming more strategic and more valuable. In fact it has never been a better time to be a CIO; the technologies that are changing the business environment are also creating opportunities for CIOs to become true business leaders.
However, there is a challenge for CIOs: they need to change. To perform this new style of CIO role and to capitalise on the opportunities it presents requires different skills, experience and ways of working. I outlined some of these new requirements in my last article, The social CIO, and I cover them in detail in my book, Disrupt IT.
CIOs that can make the transition to this new type of role will be rewarded with greater influence, a higher profile and a broader remit within their organisations. CIOs that cannot adapt will indeed face difficulties but these will be related to staying relevant and involved in the key decisions and initiatives within their organisations. And ultimately they may find it difficult to hold on to their role.