As a former CIO and a previous member of the top 100 it was both an honour and a privilege to be part of the judging panel for this year’s CIO 100. Being recognised as one of the most transformational CIOs in the UK is a real achievement and I would like to congratulate everyone who made the 2014 list.
By all accounts this year’s list was harder to judge than in previous years, which demonstrates the growing importance and contribution of the CIO role across every sector and industry. And it certainly prompted some lively debate amongst the judging panel. On the subject of the judging panel it was interesting to hear the different perspectives and insights from my fellow judges about the relative merits of each submission, the challenges being faced in different industries and the impact of initiatives.
Now, anyone that has read my previous articles for CIO UK or who follow my own blog, TheCIOLeader.com, will know that I can sometimes be critical of CIOs and in particular their failure to keep up with the evolving needs of the rest of the business. Although in the interests of balance I am also very quick to promote and/or defend the role when the need arises, and to highlight CIOs that are doing the right things and playing a leading role in their organisations.
And that is exactly what the CIO 100 is about; CIOs who are playing a leading role in shaping their organisations, driving technology-enabled change that makes a real difference. The CIO community needs role models. People such as myself can write about the role and how it needs to change, and we can provide advice, coaching and support to CIOs who want to develop themselves and transform their functions. But we also need examples of CIOs that are already operating as business leaders as well as technology leaders, and who are shaping and leading the digital transformation of their organisations. These examples can also be used to explain the value and potential to CEOs and boards in organisations that are perhaps not as enlightened about what the role can offer, how it should be positioned and what its remit should be.
The top 20 of the CIO 100 all provide good examples of CIOs that have moved beyond the purely technical aspects of IT and into the broader business. They are defining, leading and enabling transformation initiatives that are contributing directly to the growth and success of their organisations. If you are looking for examples of what being a CIO in the digital age looks like then start by reading their profiles.
And that is why, for me, reviewing the submissions was both an uplifting and reassuring experience. It proved that there are many CIOs out there who are doing the right things, who see themselves as both a business and technology leader, and who are contributing much more than technical expertise to their organisations. And, following on from a theme of last year’s CIO Summit, that CEOs get the CIO they deserve, the submissions once again demonstrate that CEOs who give their CIOs the opportunity and support to help shape and lead their organisations are reaping the rewards of this approach.
However, one thing did strike me as I read through the responses to the questions about major projects recently completed and priorities for the coming year. A significant number of the submissions from CIOs outside of the top 20 talked primarily about the more traditional IT projects such as infrastructure and application upgrades, refresh of equipment and updating and/or replacing of back-office systems.
Such projects are of course important; every organisation needs the right foundations in place, a solid and resilient infrastructure, etc. But the rest of the organisation is focusing on how to use technology to enable new business models, create new products and services and enhance the customer experience. CIOs need to be doing the same. They need to be allocating an increasing amount of their time to initiatives that create value for their organisations instead of those that keep the lights on.
The digital world moves quickly and businesses cannot wait for their CIO and their IT function to finish an upgrade or a back-office project before they are able to respond to a change in market conditions, customer preferences or competitor activity. So, if the CIO is preoccupied with running, maintaining and upgrading the existing infrastructure and applications then someone else may be tasked with leading the more strategic and innovative applications of technology. There is a risk that CIOs who are primarily focused on existing systems will be bypassed every time there is an opportunity to use technology to innovate, create a new product or service, or enhance the customer experience. Not only will these CIOs struggle to feature in the top 100 in the future, they may also struggle to feature in their organisation’s leadership team in the future.
To avoid this happening, CIOs need to be shifting their time and resources to initiatives that create value for their organisations. My advice to CIOs is to assess each service provided by the IT department to determine whether it is key to the organisation’s ability to differentiate, innovate or respond quickly to changes in its markets. Where a service is not deemed to meet this criteria then it should be transferred to a partner so that the CIO and the IT function can concentrate on applying technology in the areas where the rest of the business is spending their time.
The infrastructure upgrades and technology refresh projects will still be part of the CIO’s remit and achievements in this model. But CIOs will also find they have the time and resource to shape and lead the more broader business transformation initiatives that are being led by those in the top 20. And in doing so, they will also be confirming their position as a business leader within their organisation as well as its technology leader.
But that’s not to take away from the achievements of this year’s top 100. As a former CIO I know all too well the time, energy, persistence and patience required to successfully deliver any form of technology project. And for that reason I salute the top 100 for their achievements.