by Mark Chillingworth

In 2012 the device is no longer the crucial discussion for CIOs

Jan 10, 20125 mins

“Oh you haven’t upgraded to an iPhone 4” sneered the oily type with a constant false smile on seeing my Smartphone. It’s a typical reaction from those who have not yet or may never discover the beauty and power of information and are instead still in the dark ages of device love. 
In 2012 the device is no longer the crucial discussion for CIOs. Technology is commonplace, high speed broadband increasing towards ubiquity, while workers and customers are highly experienced technology users. As a result having the newest or most powerful technology in your pocket, datacentre, office or factory floor matters little. 
What the internet and the generations that have grown up with it has created is a global culture from the wealthiest to the least paid strata that truly understand the power of information. Today workers and customers are well aware that the information they require is available, the technology they use to access that information is of no importance other than they expect to be able to access that information through the device format they have to hand, be it mobile, desktop, games console or television set. The only challenge to them is they may not know where that information resides and will therefore have to conduct a search. 
Access to information has to be a pleasant journey for the customer and workforce. Thus as we will see, for CIOs those old debates about making sure the technology strategy is aligned to the business strategy are losing their value. Today the CIO’s role in the organisation is to ensure that the organisation’s information is managed and further utilised to the benefit of the organisation. 
Mark Leonard, CIO for pan-European IT and telecommunications services provider COLT at the beginning of a major strategy overhaul at COLT said to the organisation’s staff that their experience of technology at home is probably better than their work IT experience. Leonard added that this is a typical scenario in major organisations with large IT architectures.
Leonard challenged the status quo at COLT and introduced a Bring Your Own Device strategy with organisational applications delivered over an internal cloud. As a result requesting and delivery of applications is through a self-service module. 
The vast majority of CIO’s I have interviewed across Great Britain talk of online retailer Amazon as one of their inspirations. Retail CIOs are of course locked in a head to head battle with Amazon, but CIOs in the public sector, manufacturing, utilities and finance all cite Amazon for its usability, recommendations, information sharing, reliability and probably most importantly in this difficult economy its customer retention. 
CIOs and their C-level peers that understand the value of information are enabling their organisations to flourish. Remaining with retail, the last decade has seen UK supermarket chain Tesco become a global phenomena. An understanding of information has enabled Tesco to overtake its national rivals such as Sainsbury’s and Morrisons and join the global retail ranks of Walmart and Ikea. Former CEO Terry Leahy guided a management team that worked with information specialists Dunhumby to collect through loyalty cards mass levels of information that have subsequently been used to hone the retail experience, expand the business and even put Tesco in a strong position to influence products produced and then sold through its outlets. 
Tesco have sought and promoted CIOs with a passion for the value of information. Richard Sykes, added that information and its access through technology are so entwined in business life that the board need to discuss this topic at every meeting. He had some board level experience with electronics manufacturer Toshiba where these topics were discussed. Yet at the ICI board meetings only the share price was ever discussed. Today ICI is no longer in business, while Toshiba remains a strong player in its market. 
For many CIOs understanding information rather than technology will require a significant mindset change. But the opportunity for CIOs is significant. In the modern digital economy organisations are awash with information and as the value of trades has decreased, but the number of trades has increased the CIO is the business leader to ensure the information is correctly gathered, managed, analysed and distributed. CIOs in the music industry, major investment banks like JP Morgan, retail, government and finance are all tackling this growth in data and data resources. Organisations that only collect information and fail to react on it will be surpassed by rivals that understand information.
Technology will remain a core competence and responsibility for CIOs and for the above information value role to be achieved CIOs must deliver a reliable IT service to workers and customers. By delivering a faultless service the CIO can move up the value chain of the organisation and work with the organisation to uncover new opportunities through information. The CIO Executive Council has conducted significant research that demonstrates that too many CIOs spend expend their efforts on maintenance of existing technology stacks. 
Recent technology developments free the CIO up to move up the value chain. Gwyn Thomas, CIO for Wales says there is technology for every scenario; the most important thing is setting out the business case for its usage. The need for bespoke technology and customisation is fast fading. Jane Moran, CIO for global information provider Thomson Reuters says it is her strategy to only buy off the shelf technology and where possible to move to cloud based technologies. Thomson Reuters has standardised on SAP and put all of its HR operations around the world in the cloud. 
By being the catalyst for information, the CIO will never again be accused of being non-aligned.