The changing role of the CIO

It’s time for the chief information officer (CIO) to make a shift from technologist to strategist.

This should be self-evident, according to Michael de Andrade, CEO of information solutions specialist, EnterpriseWorx. “It’s a perennial argument that’s been punted for years by industry observers,” he says.

“With quantum shifts in technology, now is the time for the CIO to align the information technology team with the strategic pulse of the organisation.

“Mobile BI, along with big data, analytics on the fly and cloud computing are just some of the challenges facing today’s CIO. Of them all, the cloud poses the greatest threat – and the most opportunity.”

Estimates indicate that, by 2013, some 60% of JSE-listed organisations in SA will have adopted cloud computing. “As IT applications move to the cloud, the CIO will need to market his services to line departments, rather than positioning himself as a technology provider,” says De Andrade. “He will need to present internal and external resources seamlessly to his business colleagues. If he doesn’t do this, he could find himself out of a job.

 “To achieve success, the CIO and the IT department need to get closer to the business. The CIO needs to consult with the CEO on strategic initiatives and business planning rather than falling back on helping his team solve the problem.”

De Andrade believes that nowhere is this more essential than in the realm of business intelligence (BI), because of its strategic impact.

“There are still too many instances where the CIO remains the custodian of BI. Instead BI needs to be adopted and appreciated throughout the business organisation. New dynamics are making this imperative.”

In a recent Magic Quadrant report, the Gartner Group stated that: “Vocal, demanding and influential business users are increasingly driving BI purchasing decisions, most often choosing easier to use data discovery tools over traditional BI platforms – with or without IT's consent.”

According to De Andrade, with mobile applications driving demand for BI on the fly, the IT team is in danger of being swamped with requests for new applications. “On the other hand,” he says, “business users are tempted to bypass the BI team and look for self-service solutions. This is a good reason for the IT team and business leaders to get together to find joint solutions.”

A business intelligence competency centre provides an ideal forum for achieving this. The BICC is a multi-disciplinary team that provides an opportunity for the CIO to work with product development, marketing, finance and human resources and to focus on business outcomes. “As Gartner says, it’s about making the move from providing business intelligence tools to creating an intelligent business,” says De Andrade.

He believes that, in today’s turbulent world, CIOs need to become proactive in challenging the CEO and getting the board to consider what value IT delivers in terms of supporting business objectives.

“But this is a two-way street,” he adds. “The lifeblood of most organisations today is IT, yet a large proportion of business leaders still view IT as a cost centre rather than as a way of driving business performance. It’s up to the CEO to involve the CIO in strategic decision making so that he can develop effective IT services that underpin business sustainability and innovation.”

According to recently appointed IBM CIO Jeanette Horan, this is starting to happen. CIOs are spending more of their time on business issues either by delegating or outsourcing technical operations. As a result they are delivering an agile IT organisation that proactively meets the needs of the business.

“King III governance requirements brought IT to the boardroom table,” says De Andrade. “It’s time now for the CIO to report directly to the chief executive, rather than to the CFO. This will help shift the perception of IT as a cost centre and lead to recognising the value IT brings in enhancing the organisation’s ability to meet its business objectives.

“The emerging CIO will ask first ‘Is this good for the organisation?’ and only then ‘How much does it cost’ and ‘How can we structure the process?’

“The CIO who is successful in adopting this mindset will not only secure his position; he will find he is better placed to take the top job himself, when the opportunity arises.”

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