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The CIO role: a marriage of sorts

In the past, CIOs were labelled 'techies' and their responsibilities centred around matters affecting IT management. Nowadays, the ever-changing economic climate has forced businesses to keep pace with new tech and business realities.

Read time 3min 20sec
Anja van Beek, Sage AAMEA, says in IT, much of the value comes from the performance of the people behind the systems and infrastructure.
Anja van Beek, Sage AAMEA, says in IT, much of the value comes from the performance of the people behind the systems and infrastructure.

Today's CIO has had to shift away from the traditional focus on cost, compliance and maintenance to try to meet the business' needs for innovation and creativity. The pressure is building on the CIO to find a balance between fulfilling business needs and addressing the current technological challenges.

Traditionally, the CIO was expected to keep costs down, run the organisation more efficiently, and enable the company to quickly launch new products and services. Unfortunately, the CIO's single-minded focus on IT management meant they paid no heed to the digital initiatives emerging around them and, as a consequence, they lost the competitive edge.

IT wasn't always valued, says Sandra Hutchison, HR Sub Sahara Africa at Aon South Africa. CIOs are still making the transition to new technologies and processes. CIOs have to enable this transition while attempting to act as innovators to meet business goals. The situation is exacerbated as they're also limited by their budgets, forcing them to place more importance on strengthening the relationship between IT planning and business.

Collaboration

"Part of the CIO's mandate is ensuring tight alignment of the IT strategy with business strategy," confirms Anja van Beek, HR director for Sage AAMEA (Asia, Australia, Middle East and Africa). "This creates the need for teams to collaborate with each other and the IT department. This then means that they need a conducive organisational culture and IT platforms that empower teams to share information with each other. If the IT department can't collaborate with the rest of the workforce, you will never get the IT and business strategies aligned with one another," she says.

Not only do CIOs need to get the competitive edge over others, they also have to maintain it. CIOs need to act to show forethought, anticipating new trends and technology initiatives and formulating plans to implement these new innovations.

"It's about getting the right people with the right skills around you who can comprehend the business strategy and the technical needs," stresses Hutchison. "Your team needs to be able to translate technical processes into tools to achieve the business objectives."

Recognise that IT plays a transformational role in business - it's the enabler to move the business from position X to position Y

Sandra Hutchison, Aon South Africa

Van Beek agrees: "The retention of skilled staff is imperative because people with the right mixture of technical skill and business acumen are in short supply around the world, and in South Africa in particular. Staff retention has a massive impact on return on investment for the business. That's especially true in IT, where much of the value comes from the performance of the people behind the systems and infrastructure."

CIO evolution

'Worldwide CIO Agenda 2014 Top 10 Predictions' examined the challenges that CIOs face with the advent of mobile, social, big data and cloud services, showing the need for an entirely different set of IT skills and roles. The report also published predictions for the CIO role in 2018. Here are just some of the predictions:
* 70% of CIOs will strive towards becoming innovation partners - shifting away from the IT management focus,
* 40% of CIOs will work towards becoming strategic partners, and
* 60% of CIOs will be aware of the gap between IT planning and business strategy and recognise the importance of creating a fully functional enterprise architecture aligned with service planning and development.

Another challenge facing the CIO is streamlining the way companies capture, store and retrieve big data. Big data is invaluable to organisations when it's used correctly. Businesses can use the data to break down its customer base and track and predict customer behaviour. It also assists the HR function and can be used for measuring workforce analytics.

The overriding question facing CIOs, however, is how to marry technical skills with business strategy.

"With difficulty," laughs Aon South Africa's Hutchison. "If you're a traditional CIO, focusing on traditional IT issues, you're not going to cope. You have to bridge the gap between business needs and technology. A CIO who is more business-focused should have a team of technically talented players supporting him or her. Then, if he or she struggles to comprehend certain technical aspects, the team can translate them into business-speak and assist in addressing them. Recognise that IT plays a transformational role in business - it's the enabler to move the business from position X to position Y," says Hutchison.

First published in the August 2014 issue of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine.

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