by Christine Hodgson

The good CIO’s guide to CEO’s shifting goalposts

May 08, 20114 mins
CareersIT Leadership

After two years of relentless focus on cost-cutting, we are now seeing signs on all sides of a distinct change of focus, at least in the private sector, with more and more businesses looking for growth and innovation as we emerge from recession.

What a golden opportunity this gives the CIO to play a bigger role within the top management team which sets the direction, and guides the future prosperity, of the whole business.

Business innovation, new ventures, new product launches and forays into new markets are all critically dependent for success on IT. It is therefore vital to align IT provision with business needs month-by-month and day-by-day as those needs evolve.

In my experience not all CIOs regard such non-stop change as an opportunity — For some, it is the CEO’s way of constantly moving the goalposts for an already hard-pressed IT department doing its best just to keep the lights on and maintain standards with the existing systems portfolio.

Even so, constant change can make CIO one of the most rewarding and exciting roles to undertake.

To excel at this type of CIO role , I’d like to outline five things that may be useful:

1. Understand your business and its customers Appreciating what differentiates your business from its competitors is key. It could be customer service, reliability or a stream of innovative new products. Or perhaps an online presence offering superior security and availability. Maybe even rapid personalisation of your offerings to match a customer’s precise needs.

Whatever the answer, the CIO needs to understand it, to understand customers and the channels they use, and what it implies for IT support.

Demonstrate this level of understanding and it will make it much easier to get buy-in from the internal business stakeholders, for your strategy and associated spending plans. And, as a result, your plan and that of the CEO will be one and the same.

2. Appreciate the difference between collaborating and merely reacting. CEOs are increasingly working hand in glove with their CIOs. They want more from the CIO than merely reacting to requirements.

They want CIOs able to think in business terms, to make a positive contribution to key business differentiators, and to take a proactive role in future plans and ventures.

IT may have been viewed once as a provider of routine support systems, but successful companies increasingly see it as a source of differentiation in the marketplace.

3. Allocate your time between innovation and routine tasks CIOs often find themselves having to spend a vast proportion of their time on day-to-day maintenance and routine enhancements, but those wanting to operate in the boardroom need to spend a greater portion of their time on innovation.

Businesses must change ever faster to stay ahead, and no part of the business can operate efficiently without the right IT.

Routine activities have to be delegated to your team or third parties so that something like 70 per cent of your time can be spent on forward thinking, planning for the future and supporting business transformation.

4. Gain confidencein explaining IT capabilities and issues to the business After two decades of IT centralisation, you will surely be experiencing an upsurge in DIY initiatives from some of the managers in the business.

The knee-jerk response might be to try and crush such initiatives, but that isn’t always necessary.

There are safe and reliable emerging technologies that will deliver rapid results to the new venture and front-end areas of your business, without causing the IT empire to collapse into chaos.

As long as you and your IT team understand these emerging technologies better than managers across the business then control can be maintained, either by supporting them or explaining why their deployment is not helpful.

5. Don’t undervalue your own importance in an age of ubiquitous IT It’s easy to forget just how much knowledge resides with you and your department about how your business actually works, in fine detail.

You know about the processes and information flows within and between all departments, and between your business and the outside world.

It is quite possible that you understand more than the supply chain manager, the marketing director or the HR director about the data and flows in their patch.

All of this  puts you in a unique position to understand what can and can’t be done with IT, and to offer your CEO insights into what more can be done to optimise the  business value out of the information held in the organisation.

Later, I will outline another five things that may be useful in the post-recession age, with a focus on new technologies from XYZ-as-a-service to Social CRM and the rise of consumer and mobile technology by both consumers and employees.

Christine Hodgson is Chairman of Capgemini UK

Pic: dsearlscc2.0