The growth in the importance of IT within organisations of all shapes and sizes has led to a new dynamic in the boardroom. The role of Chief Information and or Technology Officer has emerged in the last two decades as one of the most critical to the success of the business. The rise of the CIO has mirrored the switch from IT as a cost to a profit centre and increasingly the area that will underpin new initiatives around gaining insights from data that will power exciting new business models.
In a world where data and IT systems are critical in almost every business process, the modem CIO has the advantage of not just knowing what needs to be done but also a good oversight of how it can be achieved. The element that might be less clear is the why are we doing this in the first place? Potentially this is the most valuable skill of a CIO in challenging the why. For example, the rush towards AI or a data warehousing that may be predicated on the what a competitor claims to be doing or the promises of a vendor. The CIO must be able to unpick the rationale and gain fundamental truths. This means asking questions. What is our tangible goal for AI in the short and long term? Is our data suitable for such a project? Can we gain the same results using another method?
These questions might sound like a party pooper. However, any senior executive that has been within the enterprise market for any length of time will have seen projects with unrealistic technical goals set by boards that were based on a glorious vision but without the IT sanity check to ensure they were feasible. Take for example the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) model that is beloved by accountants. The decision of whether to stay on-prem or go to the cloud is often made based solely on TCO. Yet this does not consider the overall digital strategy of the organisations or the longer-term factors such as risk, skills or finding new ways to manage process.
Agility and people
From a day to day perspective, the CIO remit is growing. The 20th year of the annual Harvey Nash and KMPG CIO Survey, one of the longest-running barometers of the CIO landscape, has consistently shown two key trends. Around half of CIO’s expect budgets to increase this year while an almost identical percentage report a shortage of big data and analytics skills. The survey has found similar patterns over the last few years with areas of weaknesses most notable in scaling agile methods across an organisation. These factors including big data skills shortages and lack of agility are prompting the move towards services, with the survey suggesting that a third of companies expect outsourcing spend to increase over the next year.
This move towards services is possibly one of the biggest trends across the boardroom and many expect the CIO to take the lead. Especially with the rise of hybrid IT, the decision to use services is often not a binary one. Increasingly, services are blended between multiple providers and technologies that range from full outsourcing to the use of hosted, cloud and SaaS. The CIO must often act as the boards translator to take a business imperative and then look at the technology options but sometimes, the CIO must push back with a solution that may not be technology but might be better solved by examining a staffing or processes issues.
The modern CIO needs more than just an understanding of technology. Much more, it requires an understanding of data; not just bits and bytes but also the potential of data, the rules around governance with an ability to look at the possible tempered with the practical. It is not an easy task but possibly the most critical role for the success of the enterprise in a data-driven world.