16 Jun The CIO: A Role In Transformation
The traditional tasks of a CIO are changing, and a failure to adapt may be dangerous, says Hostworks CEO Will Berryman.
The role of the CIO in business as its own independent C-level function came about with the acknowledgment of technology’s integral role in the business process of a business. So while there’s been technology in businesses for years, the more recent times when rapid technology change has meant innovation in a business, the CIO position has become an increasingly important role.
When you look at the types of technology that were being employed in a business in the past they were more business process tools that were really important: infrastructure heavy and very productivity based in terms of what workers used; systems that managed finances, HR and those types of things; and the tools that were installed and managed on the desktop.
They could be rather large monolithic types of technology that didn’t change, or had productivity purposes had to be governed. It was critical to have commonality between systems to make them productive: very rule based and controller based in the way they worked.
The CIO would have a handful of vendors – perhaps one for the types of tools that people at work would use, and another for the big customer relationship management or logistics systems. A CIO could even afford to do a turn-key deal with a provider, and the planning cycles behind that were quite lengthy and controlled.
But over recent years technology advancements, particularly with digital, in the ability to reach directly to a customer and the ability to govern a user experience, have meant a lot of those rules, cycles and processes that the CIO once had have changed.
Now a CIO has to be providing services to a much broader cross-section of the business, and particularly to marketing people in terms of web applications and creative materials. The changes to the cycles of change among those technologies are huge. Marketing people will want make changes to what they offer up to a customer in terms of days, weeks and months rather than a cycle of years. And it means that rather than having a handful of vendor relationships and a handful of systems that need to be managed, now the work of the CIO needs to be a lot more agile. There might be hundreds of vendors they need to use.
The CIO needs to have not so much a set plan for the next plan for the next five years but a set way of doing things over that five years for the business to be kept relevant. Not what needs to be done, but what are the best strategic practices of how these things should be done are just as important.
And that means that the CIOs job is a very different job than being controller of quite a defined set of technologies. Now they may be more of a convenor or coordinator, or a supplier of services to strategic technology within the rest of the business. And that’s a very different mindset. The old rules of being a CIO in terms of controlling these long strategic technology cycles are inhibitors to the way that a CIO needs to work in a dynamic and technically-enabled organisation. And doing that quickly in large organisations is difficult. The CIO and the business can’t afford to 1) break all the rules and eliminate all the discipline, but 2) nor can they afford to have a team which can work across all of these different technical pressure points and opportunities that take place.
The answer is increasingly to engage with the right partners, partners who are able to blend in with the local technology team to provide these services will allow the CIO’s job to be much more agile and effective. It’s not as if technical knowledge within a business these days, particularly with digital, is purely resident within the CIO.
In that sense what we do as a managed services supplier is useful. We can act as a point of coordination for the CIO. We can act as a point of management for some of the more routine tasks that the CIO would undertake in order to free up more time for the CIO and his team to strategically enable those drivers in the business. The concept of having a managed service provider that has the depth to be able to work end to end, coordinating, implementing and then managing some of the more routine things that need to take place can be valuable. The CIO won’t be torn in different directions around what they need to do. That’s a very different role and partnership is important.
Some of the best relationships we have with CIOs is where our team and our skill base blend in with the CIO’s team and aspirations so we can work with the marketing people, we can work with the data people, we can work with the traditional infrastructure people. And in doing that the CIO is able to take on more of a role as a broker and enabler of different parts of the business they serve. It allows the CIO to manage more nuanced business opportunities within their organisation.
So the days of a CIO who not only knew everything but did everything within his own team structure are disappearing fast. But that doesn’t mean their role is being diluted – it means their role is more important than ever but it is reliant on their ability to adapt and accept the new demands that rapidly evolving technology is placing on them.