by David Warburton Broadhurst

The changing role of the CIO

Mar 15, 2011
CareersIT Strategy

CIO’s today may understandably feel that they are the treading a fine line balancing the needs of the CEO, typically the visionary of the organisation and the CFO who is primarily concerned with mitigating risk and containing costs. At the heart of this are environmental pressure driving UK business and compelling organisations to reconcile the sometimes opposing objectives of ensuring efficiency whilst supporting innovation.

Harnessing the best in innovation to bring about bottom-line business improvements may seem like the holy grail in IT management but we think it is actually the same thing. As a service partner to thousands of UK businesses we know that, for many CIOs, their priorities are multifaceted but the expectation is that they can deliver to their objectives without increasing the cost base or footprint of IT.

The changing role of the CIO continually challenges the profession as a whole to govern the development of corporate IT that must keep the business running as usual while promoting innovation. Using managed services delivered from a cloud computing provider is one way to help do this.

By using the cloud to process simple tasks and run standard applications, the CIO can begin to free up capability and budget to focus on areas that need most attention — and ultimately deliver differentiation in the market that the business seeks in order to be truly innovative and therefore compete successfully.

The truth is today, a CIO without a cloud computing strategy may be at risk to more agile and future thinking competitors who embrace the opportunities presented to them. However, just saying you have a cloud strategy is not going to cut it either as it requires vision and new ways of working. Ultimately, this is changing the skills sets required of the CIO and his team.

I’d argue that the qualities that have always defined a CIO, the combination of leadership, commercial nous and mastery of technology, will not change fundamentally, as cloud services take a more prominent role. I’d also argue that cloud computing is not about a wholesale lift and shift of the IT department into someone else’s data centre, although in some cases it can be.

All of this depends on the individual business involved, how it is organised and funded, the views and feelings of the leadership team and their appreciation of the opportunity, as well as their attitude to risk.

Cloud services are not an all or nothing proposition and this can sometimes be misunderstood. While the increasing use of managed cloud services presents the head of IT with a new set of relationships to manage, it holds the promise of meeting the conflicting requirements of cost-efficiency and business-enablement.

The reality is that such services can be taken on a piece by piece basis, via a private cloud service that integrates with existing on-premise systems. This means that most organisation’s IT in the years to come will have the look of a hybrid topology, with systems that are run and maintained locally, integrated with managed services that are provided by a third party.

CIOs, as always, will change and adapt their skills based on the level of experience they have and how exposed they have been to these types of services. The ability to manage third parties will ensure that you get the service that you want, and pay for, from your technology partners. For any function leader with experience in working with suppliers and outsourcing, this will prove to be an easily transferable skill.

In fact a recent survey on the percentage of IT time devoted to IT functions revealed that managing supplier relationships now ranks as highly as business innovation — highlighting the significance of outsourcing, managed services, and maintenance contracts to the IT role today.

What we also see is that today’s CIO now has more exposure to and interaction with the leadership team, and their importance makes them a critical contributor to the fulfilment of the business’ objectives, with more scope for making strategic change happen.

Managed cloud services can play a key role in enabling transformation on this strategic level and it is perhaps telling that defining moments — mergers and acquisitions, new appointment to the role of CIO, technology refresh, implementation of a new strategic solution and organisational re-structuring — are often the instigators of the introduction to cloud based services. It’s no surprise this often happens following a wholesale re-assessment of existing processes or technologies in use. Like any technology decision it is always about having the vision to be the driver for change and business transformation.

You will have to manage the risk that any transition requires, but the benefits can be far reaching and should not be ignored. For more information on how cloud computing is helping UK businesses download the free Cloud Computing Guide

David Warburton Broadhurst is director of IT at Star