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The Changing Role of the CIO (Part 2)

Jeanne Hopkins| October 02 2017

| IT insights


Within each enterprise, savvy CIOs are undergoing transformation, too – from a role as service provider for other departments to strategic corporate leader.

In my last post, I discussed the changing role of IT managers, especially in regard to cybersecurity. It’s clear, though, that today’s IT professionals are a powerful force throughout any organization, no longer restricted to their traditional service role. So if IT now permeates every aspect of business, at every level, what does that mean for those at the top – the Chief Information Officers?

IDG’s 2017 “State of the CIO” spells it out: “while CEOs still expect CIOs to simplify and upgrade IT and improve security, their marching orders for CIOs include focusing on customer acquisition and retention, leading product innovation and collaborating on customer initiatives . . . Being a CIO is, in essence, like having two separate jobs.”

We all seem to agree that we’re undergoing a digital transformation, even if we disagree about what, exactly, that means. Within each enterprise, savvy CIOs are undergoing transformation, too – from a role as service provider for other departments to strategic corporate leader.

Today’s CIO is not only IT-smart but a sort of “Renaissance Man” (or Woman) – someone who understands the business, colleagues, customers, and “the way things work.” Someone your Mom might have called “well-rounded.”

the-changing-role-of-the-cio-part-2.jpgCIO As Strategist

Today’s CIO must be an astute scanner – keeping an eye on the big picture of technology trends and recognizing which things will be relevant for their own company, either as problem solutions or as opportunities for improvement. That ability to detect gold – and understand how to use it – is key for any aspiring IT manager and certainly a prerequisite for CIO. But as CIO, you must also be able to explain – in non-technical business terms – why the gold you have discovered will bringer greater value to your enterprise.

This ability to “sell” the need for relevant new initiatives to fellow C-suite execs is critical if CIOs expect to help direct early-stage decision making.

As an example, the Poneman Institute, a security research firm, recently conducted a survey in which “94 percent of respondents believed a security incident related to unsecured IoT devices or applications could be catastrophic to the business – a significant disconnect given that only a quarter of boards require updates on oversight of IoT risks.” It’s up to CIOs to deliver those updates anyway -- convincingly enough to ensure adequate resources are devoted to fixing problems as well as pursuing new initiatives.

The strategic CIO has to manage what’s current within their organization as well as what’s trending that could impact their company. However, they also have to manage what’s on the way out. IT executives now realize that developing a well-considered IT asset disposition plan is a strategic line of defense that cannot be ignored. Certainly businesses in the UK are struggling to address the public’s “right to disappear.” But IT asset distribution is one of those things that can be both a governance and compliance issue, regulated by industry as well as government.

The strategic CIO must become customer-centric, because customer data is now at the heart of business decision-making. It takes an IT perspective to determine how the organization can gather ever more (and ever-more-relevant) customer data, efficiently and effectively analyze that data and transform it into actionable business intelligence, all without sacrificing user convenience, data governance or security.

So CIOs are looking forward, in two ways:

  • They’re focusing more on strategic endeavors such as driving business innovation
  • They’re identifying opportunities for competitive differentiation

To reach those goals, they’re reallocating their spending. Security still gets a share, because cyber-sleuthing and protections are crucial and more visible than ever. But more dollars are going toward business development initiatives such as:

  • Improving customer experience (40%)
  • Improving business processes (40%)
  • Increasing operational efficiency (35%)
  • Growing the business (33%)

CIO As Communicator

As their organization’s technology leader, CIOs must be able to clearly explain the benefits of creating proactive IT policies as well as the risks of failing to do so. That requires deep understanding of how data is being used (or could be) to address future business challenges, both problems and opportunities. And the ability to relay that information to colleagues throughout the enterprise.

The CIO is a teacher as well as a learner. Mark Ridley is Group Technology Officer at the British firm Glenheim Chalcot Accelerate. He says, “A CIO who can inspire people outside of the technology team is a breath of fresh air to many businesses.” 

CIO As Team-builder

CIOs are still responsible for pulling together technology processes and tools. But no CIO can be successful if they can’t marshal the human resources necessary to handle (and protect) today’s work while simultaneously contemplating the future – looking for new ways in which technology can reduce costs, boost customer service and satisfaction, and strengthen competitiveness.

CIOs are no longer simply IT staff managers, they have to build teams and alliances across their organization in order to build integrated solutions. Top CIOs will be able to effectively predict relevant staffing and skills needs as well as functional and integration needs.

But where are all the women?

Memset’s Kate Craig-Wood, MD, is dismayed about a KPMG study that found a measly 9% of senior IT leaders are women. She blames the broader issue, the “sparsity of women in hard-technical careers.” So what is the role of IT managers in encouraging diversity within their IT departments? Is it up to the very few current female CIOs to overtly promote themselves as role models for girls in IT?

CIO As Marketer 

Marketing is a data-driven business these days, and marketing is the link between production and sales. In fact, one CIO says IT’s primary responsibility is boosting customer service. Companies cannot survive without attracting and retaining customers, so focusing on meeting and exceeding their expectations effectively addresses other corporate needs. Listening and responding to improve the internal customer’s user journey is equally important.

Data analytics is now front and center. CIOs must understand how their marketing team is gathering and using data in order to do that even better.

George Westerman is principal research scientist with the MIT Sloan Initiative on the Digital Economy. He says, “CIOs are no longer bound to their corporate versions of Chutes and Ladders.” Instead, they are “teaming up with chief marketing officers, product managers, and other functional heads to build digital services intended to boost customer engagement” 

CIOs also have to understand how cybersecurity affects marketing. The Poneman Institute report revealed that when a company experiences a data breach, the #1 financial consequence is lost business. They cite not only direct sales losses but “reputation losses and diminished goodwill,” noting that once a data breach occurs, “organizations need to take steps to retain customers’ trust to reduce the long-term financial impact.”

Data breaches will happen. CIO-CMO collaboration is critical if companies hope to repair damaged relationships with existing customers and devise campaigns to acquire new customers to replace lost business.

CIO For Hire?

Outsourcing is nothing unusual these days. Organizations partner with third-party providers for a multitude of services, including an increasing number of cloud-based tech services from email to data storage. Hiring freelance contractors to fill in gaps or accomplish short-term projects is commonplace, too. In fact, with the current IT labor shortage, many IT pros with in-demand expertise are finding greener pastures by going out on their own rather than working for a single employer.

So is there room for CIOs within the freelance movement?

Phil Jackman thinks so, and he points to himself as an example. He says SMBs may assume they need a CIO when what they really need is someone to help solve specific technology dilemmas. Or someone who can apply their extensive IT knowledge/skills to creatively contemplate IT opportunities. “Recruiting,” he says, “may not always be the right thing to do.”

He also points out that, in any size company, internal conflicts can interfere with identifying problems as well as innovation. A freelance CIO-as-consultant brings fresh eyes in a non-threatening way. Their presence is temporary, so they can serve as a trusted facilitator.

CIO As Psychic 

Markets change. Customers change. Technology changes. New threats and opportunities emerge. What was essential becomes obsolete. Transformation is in the air. Is this the best job in the world, or what?

Duncan Stott certainly thinks so. He’s the Chief Information Officer at Kier Group, a British civil engineering firm. He not only loves his job, he’s jazzed about the future. He says CIOs have to envision the future of technology as well as their own business, then “marry that vision of the future with really knowing what your business is about and what the people, the executives are about, and understanding the strategy behind the strategy.”

You have to know what you’re trying to achieve, he says, but you must also be able to communicate that to others.

Sounds like the skill set typically found in successful CEOs. With those skills, and as their expanded role is more widely seen and accepted within the organization, CIOs are more likely to be seen as CEO material themselves. Or COO material.

One Thing Is Clear: The Future Is Murky

IDG’s State of the CIO study notes that 62% of CIOs are feeling “exhilarated” about the changes they face today. Like Duncan Stott, they feel their job is more rewarding. But change is happening too fast and too broadly to accurately predict IT roles of the future.

CIOs may have to get creative – about a lot of things – further underscoring the importance of understanding all business sectors as well as customers. Future-proofing isn’t possible, but future-friendly will be a business essential. And topping the list of “friendly” moves will be assuring protection of company and customer data through cyber security.

Topics: IT insights

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As Executive Vice President and CMO of Ipswitch, Jeanne Hopkins knows the value of blogging as part of an Inbound Marketing strategy. She’s been blogging for years for a variety of software companies, and understands that as an author, blog posts usually stand the test of time. And, every marketer needs to blog.

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