CIOs simplify business for the digital office

Over the last three days of this week I’ve had four transformative CIOs describe to me how they achieve outcomes through strong relationships and communications skills, which enable them to be brokers for their organisation’s technology needs.

My week has included hosting a debate with Centrica CIO Rodd Carr and former Imagination tech leader and now CIO columnist Matt Ballantine. I spent Thursday with Stuart Birrell, CIO for engineers and Formula One team McLaren and former CIO of Gatwick Airport and this morning I was with Hailo CTO Rorie Devine, formerly CIO 100 judge and CTO of Befair.

Centrica’s Carr and Ballantine debated with CIO UK with an audience of 30 of our C-level readers whether shadow IT was a threat or an opportunity to organisations. If you listen to a great deal of the hyperbole about the CIO role from some analysts and vendor PR you’d be forgiven for thinking that shadow IT was a major threat to the role of the CIO and that IT leaders expend a great deal of energy hunting for shadows, shining a light on them and closing down these start up cultures within your organisation.

I opened the debate asking Carr and Ballantine if shadow IT was merely the result of the workers trying to get the job done. Both agreed and described over a highly interactive debate that shadow IT was in fact an opportunity for the organisation and in many cases drove innovation. Both business technology leaders explained how the development of mobility and cloud had changed the culture of being a CIO. No longer are CIOs the top down leaders of technology because technology is no longer a monolithic pillar. Technology is now in every pocket and integral to the outcomes of organisations. As a result top down CIO leadership cultures no longer serve a purpose for organisations navigating significant economic change.

Discussing his role at McLaren, the Formula One team, sports car and automotive electronics manufacturer, Stuart Birrell explained how he is surrounded by highly intelligent people whose job it is to get a result. Alternative thinking has led McLaren to be the most successful team in Formula One, the only team to have won all but one race in a single season and it has surpassed Colin Chapman’s Lotus for innovation. Like Carr, Birrell embraces new technology or methods from across the organisation. Intralinks collaboration tools were introduced to McLaren via the organisation’s legal team for example.

“It is very difficult to create your own walled garden of technology,” says Hailo CTO Rorie Devine in a forthcoming profile.

These conversations highlighted the new role for the CIO and its one this title has always championed, that the CIO is a business leader. It is not the place for CIOs to say yes to every new application or platform a Centrica or McLaren engineer wants or accept every project from sales and marketing departments. Nor is it the role of the CIO to police technology. It is the role of the CIO to focus on the business outcomes and ensure that any new technology or method introduced to the organisation will deliver a tangible delivery. Setting standards, reducing duplication and ensuring there are guidelines to deliver those outcomes are the role of the CIO as we head into 2015.

Birrell, as he explains in a forthcoming CIO Profile, has brought the three McLaren businesses together onto a single SAP Hana platform, reducing the number of applications and thus reducing cost.

With the passing of the monolithic age, technology can rapidly spread through an organisation like ivy upon a wall, but unchecked it can do major damage as information clarity is lost, security holes creep in and costs rise – the very threats of shadow IT if not managed well. So the role of the CIO is to manage well, embrace beneficial shadow IT, adopt methods and applications that will improve the organisation and communicate to other areas of the business that new tools can be used to refine processes. In essence, the CIOs role is to simplify the organisation, ensure it has the right tools for the right jobs and to work with those that discover new tools to ensure they deliver benefits and do not create risks.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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