So the judging process for the 2015 CIO 100, the list that recognises the most transformative CIOs in the UK, is now complete. There were some very impressive submissions for this year’s list with CIOs from a range of different industries demonstrating how they were initiating and leading technology-enabled business transformation within their organisations.
It has never been more important for CIOs to position themselves as leaders of business transformation in addition to the their traditional role of technology change. Digital business models, products and services are enabled by technology and CIOs have a vital role to play in building a platform that will help their organisations survive in the digital age. They also need to ensure that they are spending as much time as possible working with the rest of the business to identify opportunities for using technology to create value and generate revenue. It was encouraging therefore to see that an increasing number of CIOs are now taking on this broader, more business-focused and influential role.
Inevitably when reviewing hundreds of submissions about the achievements and priorities of CIOs, a number of themes become evident. I have listed below six of the themes from this year’s judging process. It is not an exhaustive or complete list but it does at least provide an insight into how the role of the CIO and the IT function are evolving (or not, as the case may be!).
1. Focus on people and relationships
An increasing number of CIOs are focusing more on people and relationships, both within their teams and in the wider organisation. Creating rewarding and stimulating roles, establishing development programmes, creating clearly defined career paths and offering opportunities for progression are key to attracting and retaining the best people, and for getting the most out of them while they are with the organisation.
And, as well as focusing on the IT team, many CIOs are also spending more time developing relationships with their stakeholders throughout the organisation. To drive transformation across the business requires strong stakeholder management, relationship building, networking and influencing skills. CIOs that invest time in networking and building relationships are far more likely to be viewed as a business leader and given the opportunity to lead major change initiatives.
2. Transformation is relative
It is not the content of the transformation that is important, it is the fact that CIOs are initiating and leading major change within their organisations. Some CIOs are affecting change on a global scale with multi-million pound budgets whilst other technology leaders are implementing change within smaller organisations and on lower budgets. But these changes are just as significant within the context of the organisation as the large global programmes. The skills, energy and vision required to initiate and lead transformations of any scale are the same. The obstacles and issues encountered by CIOs along the way may be different but they are no less challenging. And the business outcomes, on a relative basis are just as significant.
So, it is not the size of the organisation or the budget that is important, it is the extent of the transformation that CIOs are leading and the impact this has on the performance of the organisation that really matters.
3. Focus on the business outcomes
This year more CIOs were able to talk about the business outcomes of major programmes and initiatives that they were leading or in which they had played a major part. The rest of the business is focusing on how technology can be used to create competitive advantage, enhance the customer experience and generate new revenue streams. If the CIO and the IT function are to stay relevant and play a key role in the digital age, they too need to focus on how technology can be used in these areas. Being able to talk in terms of business outcomes is the mark of a modern CIO, the type of technology leader that will thrive in the digital age.
4. Still too much focus on technology projects
Whilst more CIOs described business-focused initiatives and could articulate the impact these had on the performance of the organisation, there are still too many CIOs who focused almost exclusively on technology projects as their main achievements for the past year and, perhaps even more worryingly, as their priorities for the next year. Such projects are of course important; every organisation needs the right foundations in place, a solid and resilient infrastructure, etc. But if this is all the CIO is doing then it means that someone else in the organisation is likely to be identifying opportunities to use technology to innovate, create a new product or service, or enhance the customer experience. And that doesn’t bode well for these CIOs.
5. Traditional vendors still dominate
As part of their submission, CIOs are asked to list the main technology suppliers to their organisation. Based on the responses to this question it is clear to see that the traditional IT companies still dominate the vendor lists of most organisations. In some respects this is not surprising as organisations have invested significant sums in their platforms over many years and the longstanding IT providers would have been key to building these platforms. But much of the real, game-changing innovation and thinking is increasingly coming from smaller technology companies, particularly start-ups. CIOs need to be engaging with these other companies on a regular basis, learning from them and introducing them to the rest of the business to stimulate thinking and prompt new ideas. Hopefully we will see this shift in future submissions with more CIOs listing newer and/or smaller vendors alongside the more traditional IT suppliers.
6. Some CIOs don’t understand disruption
A surprising number of CIOs do not think that their organisation is facing the prospect of disruption. This is particularly surprising when some of the industries in which these CIOs are working are clearly being disrupted. And, even if disruption is not currently happening with their industry, CIOs need to be preparing for it to happen. Every industry and every business will be impacted by digital. It is not a question of if but when.
In addition, when asked to describe a disruptive measure they had either led or played a major part in, many CIOs described technology changes such as implementing a new ERP system or deploying new mobile devices. These are not disruptive measure unless they enabled changes in the organisation’s business model or created a game-changing new product or service. CIOs need to be thinking about how technology can be used to reinvent the business, its products and services. That is what disruption means in the digital age.
Overall though it is encouraging to see that more CIOs are positioning themselves as business leaders as well as technology leaders. These CIOs get what it takes to be a CIO in the digital age and will continue to grow their influence and remit.