C-suite champion:what is the CIO’s position in the business today?

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SHAUN LYNN 2Shaun Lynn – Agilitas CEO

As CIOs move to the forefront of the c-suite, they face new challenges in the way they purchase IT, transform the workplace and tackle skills gaps.

Ten years ago, with the advent of cloud technology and business transformation, the role of the CIO moved from head of IT to the position of key executive and business leader.

The most technology-driven organisations have made their CIOs central to business decisions, seeing greater efficiencies and collaboration as a result. The evolution hasn’t stopped though. Dependence on IT has meant that entire enterprises are being moulded by CIOs to maximise productivity and promote the benefits of technology.

The future of the role is firmly cemented but as technology becomes ever-more essential, new pressures are giving CIOs added responsibilities and issues to consider.

The future of the role is being influenced by new options for implementing and delivering IT services, demand for training to combat the IT skills shortage, cost and security considerations.

Purchasing IT has always been the responsibility of the CIO. However, the market is witnessing unprecedented levels of spending being awarded to IT leaders, with 61% last year planning to increase spending on new projects, resulting in a year-on-year growth in budgets of 6.4%, according to IDG.

IT is no longer just a supporting service – CIOs see analytics, business intelligence and digital as the technologies that will have the most significant impact on their businesses within the next two years.

These tools come under the control of IT, but it isn’t the techies using them – it is the line-of-business staff.

The future CIO will be expected to understand how every department will use technology tools and ensure a return on investment is achieved. The myriad of services out there makes this even harder.

The challenges CIOs face when making purchases are exacerbated further by the different options available for the same service. Organisations can choose to use a managed service provider or OEM to complete an install. Buying from an OEM direct may seem like the cheaper option, but when you throw in added support costs and any maintenance, costs can quickly escalate.

Pressure on CIOs to reduce capital spend is forcing the issue further. The latter is winning the capex vs. opex debate as IT budgets continue to be spent on technology for use across the business.

Convincing buy-in from the rest of the c-suite will also be a challenge. Looking to the future, CNO (chief negotiating officer) may bode to be a more fitting title as CIOs look to negotiate technological disagreements and debates between rival departments, whilst making financial decisions that may previously have come under the remit of an FD or CFO.

Where new technology is concerned, a major consideration for any organisation looking to introduce something new is getting staff to use it. The skills gap is a serious issue for CIOs. Gartner estimated that last year 125,000 large organisations launched new digital business initiatives (nearly half of all enterprises) reliant on skills to operate.

Peter Sondergaard, senior VP and global head of research at Gartner, sees this as a “huge challenge for CIOs who must now retool their IT organisations with the knowledge, skills and experience needed to lead digital initiatives”.

Go.On, a digital charity set up to promote digital skills, estimates 12 million people and a million small businesses don’t have the digital skills to prosper in today’s digital era. Consequently, if CIOs can’t recruit the right skills, they will need to look to training.

Security is an area where there has been a particularly large skills gap. The security certification and industry body (ISC)2 predicts a need for 6 million security professionals by 2019, but only 4.5 million will be qualified.

The rise of cloud technology and an increased appetite for businesses to move operations off-site has given CIOs a multi-front battle to fight. With the number of potential threats to IT continuing to grow and the considerable consequences of any breach, security is going to become an increasingly important area of responsibility for CIOs.

The challenge will be both how to store and manage information and employ services which enhance security. The opex model is most suitable, enabling service levels to easily be flexed with demand allowing effective management of own and customer data.

Ultimately the role of CIO is becoming more complex and challenging. The new breed of leader will need to be far more business focused and understand the complexities of IT, organisational structure and line-of-business activities.

They will need to get the balancing act right, making critical purchase decisions, choosing the right technology, whilst keeping a close eye on the skills gap and any security threats around the corner.

To combat these challenges, CIOs should look to invest and outsource. High quality and technically skilled staff are essential in today’s environment, so investing in staff training is a must. This will itself help to reduce security risks and improve efficiency.

At the same time, though, outsourcing support services through an opex approach to IT will in the long run save money and improve efficiency.

The role is moving fast, and the future should be viewed as an exciting prospect for budding leaders in IT as pressures and new technology continue to mould the position. f

 

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