The CIO imperative to step up and influence: Impossible, improbable or unavoidable?

The conversations around the CIO100 presentations last month reflected the discussions late in 2014 at workshops run by MIT Sloan School of Management, Drs Jeanne Ross and Peter Weill, in conjunction with the International Conference on Information Systems, which was held in Auckland.

Ross’ research suggests that many organisations fail to reap the true value and innovation that their CIOs could provide and the CIO 100 table discussions indicated a reluctance, unwillingness or inability of New Zealand CIOs to step up and demonstrate this value, despite their obvious abilities.

Traditionally the approach was to view IS as an ad-hoc problem solver and order taker with a focus on building and running systems rather than enabling uptake and utilizations coupled with benefit measurements.

As the “as a service” model gathers pace in-house IS Teams need a focus on “exploit” and “commit” rather than “build and run”. Failure to make this transition is likely to lead to “expunge” and “consolidate”.

Related: Primed for change: CIOs from New Zealand’s largest ICT using organisations harness an arsenal of leadership and technology tools to succeed in a constantly evolving business environment.

Ross advocates the three-pronged value proposition she calls “Exploit and Commit Resource Allocation”.

Under “Exploit”, the focus goes onto: business process optimisation; strategic use of information; and digital innovation.

“Commit” is all about allocating resources based on strategic planning, with a driving and obsessive constant of “what can we deliver that adds real value?” Resources should be allocated to ensure that IS leverages strategic capabilities rather than an allocation based on pre-digital demands.

For many years it has been accepted that users typically only use a small percentage of the functionality of systems available to them, but previously, rarely did IS departments push back and suggest cheaper lower functioning alternatives.

CIOs who take leadership rather than follower roles are far better positioned to identify synergies opportunities and innovations, that others around the C-Suite table might miss.

Ross advocates placing a major emphasis on tracking adoption and usage stats to measure actual value received and not simply putting systems out there and assuming they are being used.

This philosophy strikes a logical cord when we consider the development of the printed and typed word.

The functionality of the typewriter was used to an extremely high level.

As technology evolved and the word processor appeared they were driven by expert operators who again were expert users of the full functionality.

Fast forward to 2015 and everyone is doing document production with many tens of millions using MS Word but very few using it with the full benefit of the functionality.

While we can buy a book called Word for Dummies maybe what we need is dumb word for dummies with 20 per cent of the functionality at 20 per cent of the price but delivering 100 per cent on value!

Ross points out that for this value conversation to occur there needs to be an end to the “them and us” cultural norm of the business on one side and IS on the other.

CIOs who take leadership rather than follower roles are far better positioned to identify synergies opportunities and innovations, that others around the C-Suite table might miss.

Customer experience, while often seen as the domain of the CMO is a useful driving mindset for a CIO.

If CIOs are able to step back and think about the experience of their organisation’s customers, the technology becomes the means of enabling processes that actually meet the customers needs, resulting in increased customer satisfaction.

Such a focus can serve to re-position the role of the IS team within the organisation and to clarify the enterprise and architecture strategy allowing the company to fully leverage the value of IT investment.

Ross talked about USAA Financial Services as an example of innovation driven from IS. They shifted focus away from segmented services to integrated services around member life events. This scale of innovation can only occur with IS driving the innovation agenda and uniquely packing the technology to deliver.

While the consensus at the Auckland workshop run by Ross was that the CIOs in the room were not taking this new repositioned role, there was nothing to suggest they could not and as new players keep arriving into traditional markets, it has never been more urgent that they do so because it is not impossible or improbable, but it is unavoidable. With reporting from Ania Lang

Photo by Jason Creaghan

Jennie Vickers is ANZ director for the International Association for Commercial Contract Management. Reach her at

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