What will it take to save the CIO from extinction?

Johannesburg, 18 Oct 2018
Read time 3min 30sec
Modern CIOs have nothing to do with technology. It's about getting people to work together, says Dimension Data.
Modern CIOs have nothing to do with technology. It's about getting people to work together, says Dimension Data.

Technology used to be so complicated that it took a whole department just to run it. However, times have changed.Today technology runs itself.

So says Neil Louw, group CIO at Dimension Data, adding that a CIO's role is not really about running technology any more. Their key objective is to drive a specific percentage increase in bottom-line profit, an entirely business-focused goal.

Louw says gone are the days when a CIO was measured on uptime, capacity, and sticking to SLAs. "Now the job is all about delivering business value from information. Today CIOs are measured on hard business metrics, such as net profit, return on net assets, and total unit cost. The old measures haven't gone away, they're just taken as given now."

An endangered species?

He says: "Before we know it, technology will be at such an advanced level that companies will just consume it, without the need for a CIO to build and operate it themselves. In other words, when companies consume technology as a utility, they won't need an internal department to build and operate it themselves."

"There'll still be an internal IT function, but its role will be strategy, business innovation, application and supplier management, policy, governance, risk, and compliance," Louw says. But if CIOs insist on leading the IT organisation as a separate entity from the rest of the business and just act as a service provider, the term 'CIO' will soon stand for 'career Is over'.

But if they can transform personally, network actively across colleagues and partners, and orchestrate meaningful change, they'll remain relevant and be at the forefront of the organisation's digital transformation - a role better labelled as chief integration officer.

What skills will the new CIO need?

For Louw, the career path to CIO used to be working your way up through IT. But the digital CIO needs a much broader base of experience and personal qualities:

* A good understanding of business, with experience in running an operating division.
* Change management experience, with good communication and people skills.
* An openness to change, to new ideas, and a willingness to change personally.
* The ability to make decisions. This may sound obvious, but it's different these days.

Louw goes on to say everyone has a valid opinion on what you should do, which invariably makes decision-making more complex. "Today, it's no longer just about technology, it's about the business."

According to him, if the CIO doesn't succeed, the rest of the business doesn't succeed. "Even though the rest of the c-suite are typically tech-savvy people, they often can't relate to a CIO's everyday worries, such as integrating clouds with legacy systems, security, regulatory compliance, ISO standards, resilience, and so on."

Based on Louw's observation, even though the CIO is the one who has to navigate the complexities of implementation, and in a large global organisation, these are considerable. Technology isn't the CIO's biggest challenge.

And ironically, the main challenge for many modern CIOs has nothing to do with technology. "It's about getting people to work together - within the company, and between the company and the outside world." "After all, you can't go digital in silos. It has to be done holistically to work - and it takes a broad set of integrated capabilities. There aren't many companies out there who can bring all that together."

With this said, Louw says that CIOs should focus on hiring their own people to take care of the value-add work, while using partners for the technical aspects. "By focusing on a small ecosystem of partners with broad capabilities, you can approach tasks in a more integrated fashion."

He concludes by saying that ultimately, if you have lots of partners, each doing just one piece of the jigsaw, you'll only end up with more systems to integrate.

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