CIO roles and expectations are changing
The challenge for CIOs today is to be able to extend their area of influence outside of just running IT processes and maintenance in a business, says Patrick Shields, CTO Africa at Software AG.
As the business world changes to suit a new era of mobile, connected customers, the role of the chief information officer (CIO) has changed rapidly. In South Africa specifically, business decision-makers are taking a serious look at the impact of digital on their organisations.
Patrick Shields, Chief Technology Officer Africa at Software AG, explains the challenge for CIOs today is to be able to extend their area of influence outside of just running IT processes and maintenance in a business, and shift their focus to incorporate the overseeing of innovation.
"This doesn't mean that the CIO's original responsibilities are negated - making technology decisions and overseeing the administrative IT duties to ensure the effectiveness and efficiencies of IT infrastructure - the CIO now also needs to take on a leading role within the business to bring it into the digital era." IT research and advisory, Gartner, shows this trend will continue to gain pace, indicating a fundamental shift in how businesses operate, and what part of the process a CIO role should fill.
However, guiding a business into the digital era does not mean simply digitising processes. "Technology and the right tools can be used to transform a business, and even dictate the future of a company. From both a global and local perspective, there has been a fundamental shift in how businesses today need to operate to remain competitive."
Software AG's Digital Business Platform, the first one worldwide, allows companies to incorporate new digital capabilities, while seamlessly integrating with current operations, which will avoid disruption of the existing investment and backlog of any kind.
"This allows for the continued use of existing systems and infrastructure, which companies have already invested heavily in, as well as the capability to analyse these platforms, and strategise ways to enhance and extend them - while at the same time embracing new capabilities. Using the Digital Business Platform, these various systems are linked through a customisable integration layer which connects new and existing systems to a central point of monitoring and management." This system is agile and operational in real-time, allowing CIOs to quickly automate and manage certain business processes, implement new processes, extract valuable data insights and gain real-time operational visibility through simple, practical dashboards.
"A CIO who is able to focus on the two different development aspects of a business - both the business side and the innovation side - will be able to effectively ensure that a business is bi-modal," says Shields. "This phrase, coined by Gartner, means that a business has both the rigour, uniformity and discipline required for efficient development and maintenance of core IT systems, as well as the quicker, more agile and adaptable capabilities required for innovation."
Shields explains that to effectively implement these two elements at the same time, it is crucial for CIOs to organise their teams to manage these aspects in a well-balanced way. "The CIO's organisational model will need to be designed to work for that specific company's needs. For example, when it comes to suppliers and partners, some may settle on one or two primary vendors, while others may decide that a multi-sourcing approach - with a broader mix of vendors based on the application needs - will be the best solution. At the same time, some IT elements of a business may be run on-premises, and some through the cloud. Some businesses require a CIO to oversee both elements of the business' IT needs, while others split these roles between the CIO and, for example, a chief innovation officer or chief digital officer. These complexities, while challenging, also provide a lot more opportunity for a CIO to provide tangible value to the business.
"When it comes to embracing new technologies and capabilities, in South Africa - as in any environment - you have early adopters, fast followers, and the slow to adopt," Shields says. "These challenges are not unique to South Africa; however, challenges such as the availability of infrastructure and the required skills are major concerns. For this reason, it is critical to select vendors who are able to provide strong and capable support, as well as reliable strategic planning tools." Shields goes on to say that the more complex the IT and business environment gets, the more businesses need suppliers to really partner with them - working together towards mutual success.
While the role of the CIO is far more complex today than ever before, the swiftly changing business environment means the role is also up for definition - an acute opportunity for CIOs to solidify their value. "It is crucial to understand how the CIO role can support the business mission - rather than just managing IT - playing a critical part in the business' success," he concludes.