A critical time to transform: how CIOS and IT organisations can survive and thrive
The role of IT within contemporary businesses is changing fast. The perpetual flow of technological developments requires IT practitioners to keep abreast of the latest trends and solutions and assess their relevance to the business accordingly.
Historically, the IT function of a business could, in the most part, survive by operating on a reactive basis. Acting as more of a service provider than an integrated part of the business, its role as a division or outside organisation, was simply to deliver technology. Now, however, IT is encountering the same challenges that many other industries and departments are used to facing; a questioning of their value.
Today, IT departments still need to ensure that the IT solutions which they provide operate smoothly, but there is also a need for them to develop innovative structures and practices which add value to the business. New technology, such as cloud, is set to transform the industry to such an extent that IT provision as a distinct organisational entity must either evolve or face the very real possibility of extinction.
As technical knowledge becomes more embedded across businesses, staff and customers in other areas are now taking on some of the activity previously the domain of IT. In addition, technology is more freely available and can be bought at the click of a button, making it far more accessible to non-specialists. This in turn raises questions of compliance and security issues. This is a growing challenge for IT practitioners, as this decentralisation of services makes integrating IT spend and supply across businesses increasingly complex. It should be the responsibility of those in IT to integrate/reintegrate technical services and data, share data safely, manage data security issues and ensure that a balance is maintained between security and sharing. In short, IT should still have a crucial role to play in helping businesses function efficiently and effectively.
Crucial to any transformation is leadership buy-in. As the speed at which technical transformation in businesses continues to gather pace, the role of Chief Transformation Officer (CTO) is emerging. The CTO generally reports directly to the CEO, leads huge cost reduction projects and reinvests these resources to drive transformation.
In order to prevent the role of the CIO being a casualty of this transformation, CIOs need to update their responsibilities – moving from a reactive to a proactive approach and acting as a facilitator of services as opposed to controller. They should be acting as a key advisor to the CEO around supporting business strategy and outlining the role IT can play in key areas such as getting to market faster or reducing costs. In practice, where previously the CIO was often a technical expert, the role is now about collaborating with and connecting departments. Rather than only responding to demands, he or she now needs to develop new technology to integrate into the business and ultimately generate new revenue streams.
Ultimately, people make the difference. If you want to support and help shape a business you need employees who can communicate at eye level with other departments and have the requisite business skills. Specialist IT expertise is now a matter of course in CIO-led departments and organisations – but it is knowledge of the inner workings of the employer’s or customer’s business and industry sector that is the basis for successful implementation of IT strategies. This awareness is key to ensuring that IT is uncompromisingly aligned to business objectives – and it is this strategic awareness that is often lacking within IT departments and IT organisations. This is where a robust hiring strategy that looks for both specialised skillsets and industry knowledge could be vital to meet business requirements.
Having the right people in place to do the right things; i.e. to maximise the value of IT to a business by supporting it directly and flexibly, is what will make the difference. If they grasp this, IT organisations can become a business transformer, ensuring survival as well as future utility in one go. And if they don’t, they may cease to exist.
About the Author
Nigel Hughes is Partner at Information Services Group (ISG). Nigel has over 20 years’ experience of advising UK and global clients on service development, change management and sourcing strategy. Nigel’s IT and business process expertise spans financial services, public sector and utilities where he has been instrumental in delivering clients significant savings, drawing on his deep experience in operating model definition, Technology Business Management (TBM), benchmarking and data-driven analytics. Nigel is recognised as a thought leader on outcome-based service definitions and the transition to standardised services.