CIOs must be schizophrenic: take orders and lead the way

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Peter Alkema
Peter Alkema

Almost 60% of CIOs now have a seat on the executive board, but only 30% are seen as drivers of innovation. Digital migration is a growing priority for CIOs, while the amount of time spent on aligning IT with the business is dropping.

These were some of the biggest takeaways from the ITWeb Brainstorm CIO Survey 2017, run in partnership with MTN Business, revealed last night at the annual Brainstorm CIO Banquet at Inanda Club in Sandton.

Now in its fourth year, the survey captured input from over 200 public and private sector CIOs (compared to 178 last year), and the comparative data from previous years allows for trends analyses.

More than half of participating CIOs (56%) report their role is changing - drastically or faster than similar roles in their industry. "The pace of change is such that CIOs will be more or less constantly in a state of reinvention," noted Paul Furber, ITWeb Brainstorm senior contributor, who presented the results.

Digital migration is a growing priority. CIOs are spending less time on aligning IT with the business and on governance, and more on driving innovation and strengthening security.

"That's a good thing," said Furber. "The more aligned you are, the less you time you need to spend on it."

Peter Alkema, CIO of business banking at First National Bank, who was the keynote speaker and a panellist at the event, said the results "reflect shifting sands in our industry" and highlight a move towards team-based, agile working.

"What stood out for me was the decrease of the importance of aligning IT and business. This is a reflection of a very traditional mindset that you can achieve things by changing structure. Corporates are guilty of perpetually changing or moving the deck chairs. But we need to empower small cross-functional teams anywhere across the organisation ? and how well we structure them to be successful is far more important than organograms and strategic PowerPoints on how we set ourselves structurally."

Tshifhiwa Ramuthaga
Tshifhiwa Ramuthaga

When it comes to CIOs' biggest challenges, they show an upward trend: lack of time, inadequate budgets, pressure to achieve compliance, and complex organisational structure are all growing concerns.

Most time is spent on supporting new business needs and developing new products and services, and there is a big focus on the Internet of things - a jump from 54% to 64% this year - as well as big data and cloud.

CIOs cite lack of resources and business discipline in using IT as the top barriers to working more effectively with business. "While more CIOs sit on the executive board, in half of the organisations, IT is still seen as a cost centre and not a strategic partner," noted Furber.

Tshifhiwa Ramuthaga, CIO of Barloworld Logistics, said the survey shows that "for three years now, we [CIOs] are unable to offload the burden of running legacy systems".

"This calls for us to think differently, accepting that legacy systems must run parallel to innovation," she said.

Paul Furber
Paul Furber

Ramuthaga was disappointed with the finding that most companies don't see CIOs or IT as drivers of innovation and that the perception that IT is a supporting role persists. However, she was impressed that the board access has increased, noting an upward trend for the past years. "CIOs have the seat at the right table and they need to bring innovation to the agenda."

Alkema said CIOs need to be "a little bit schizophrenic" - "take orders, fix e-mail and WiFi, and be comfortable with that role while taking as many opportunities to drive and assist with the strategic conversations. Then their growth will start to drive the growth of the people below them and the teams they are leading.

"The fact is that business execs themselves are trying to work out and engineer their own role and departments for the survival of their companies. For all of us, it's a transformation we have to go through individually rather than corporately."

See the results presentation here.

The complete research report based on the 2017 Brainstorm CIO Survey will be released in early 2018.

Peter Alkema's keynote speech is available here:

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