Stepping Out Of The Shadows: CIOs Become Central To Business Performance

The transformation we’ve seen in the role of the CIO from the periphery of the business to the central hub of operations, has been one of the most dramatic role-reversals we’ve seen in the corporate world in recent years.

Indeed, although it’s becoming increasingly difficult to imagine such a profound, dramatic reversal of fortunes happening today, the emergence of the CIO as a key decision maker is one that reflects an increased acceptance of the role of technology as a means of reducing costs and increasing overall efficiency.

It’s surprising to consider that as recently as 15 years ago it was still commonplace to see IT placed in the business balance sheet as an overhead. For many firms, technology was seen as a necessary evil, and one that, at best, contributed little to the overall operational efficiency or core business strategy, consuming an abundance ofresources in the process.

In the last 10 years all that has changed, of course, and we’ve begun to see IT departments embraced as an integral aspect of most forward-thinking organisations and their development strategies. As a direct result, we’ve seen a notable paradigm shift, which has seen the role of CIO move from somebody on the periphery of business decision-making to a position at the very centre of everything that happens.

I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise to anyone to hear that perhaps the most significant driver for this information is cost. As economic times started to become significantly tougher in the last 6-7 years, in particular, there’s no doubt that organisations began to understand the importance of reducing costs and increasing their own efficiency. What they found was that investing in IT was not only a path to cutting costs, but also one that could increase the productivity of their operations, by allowing for greater flexibility and mobility.

Other factors have also played their part, and it’s clear that as IT as a service infrastructure has matured, alongside the integration and acceptance of it in all elements of the business process. In the process, it’s become increasingly easy for businesses of all shapes and sizes to position IT investment at the centre of operational efficiency and executable business strategy.

As a consequence, the CIO’s role has increasingly become one that’s now inseparable to defining the success and dynamism of the business. It’s been a long road to this position, of course, and the evolution of the modern CIO has, over the years, covered a number of diverse roles, from technical support consultant to business enabler.

Today, of course, CIOs are expected to be business visionaries, and at least in my experience, those that are most successful are increasingly finding themselves taking aplace on the board as a co-creator of strategy and business change rather than just a mere supporting act. For this reason, it seems that the role of the CIO is, increasingly, to underpin strategic imperatives with coherent, cost-efficient technology that can really add value.

It’s also worth remembering that for many organisations, their CIO is also expected to be the one individual who is responsible for providing a competitive advantage. This can be as much of a concern as an advantage however; after all, if every organisation turns to their CIO to give them the edge over their competitors, then it surely follows that only those who are the very best at delivering this can be truly effective.

What this means is that not only are the top tier of CIOs in huge demand, with salaries to match, but also that they are having to develop new skills to ensure that they don’t fall behind.

Whereas 10 or fifteen years ago, they might have focused on ensuring that IT systems were up to date, inexpensive and efficient, now they need to think strategically in order tomatch the organisation’s strategy closely against what is being implemented. Instead of asking ‘what does our organisation need today?’ CIOs are instead facing the question: ‘what will our organisation need in four to five years?’ which requires an entirely different skill set.

There’s no doubt that the challenge of being a modern day CIO has resulted in a new breed ofexecutive, capable of striking a balance between juggling strategy, skill, expertise and finance, alongside the areas you’d most commonly associate with them. In a world of reduced costs and tight resources, CIOs are increasingly playing a central role in how modern-day organisations behave. It’s been a long time coming, but it seems as though today’s CIOs have finally stepped out of the shadows and into the centre of the decision-making process.

John Turner is a highly respected Senior IT Executive with over 25 years experience in IT & Business Change Management, working in global companies and software houses. He has an outstanding track record of delivering massive step-change across major organisations, including running some of the largest integration programmes in the UK. John works at CEO level to determine investment strategy, business vision and change programmes and is a renowned trouble-shooter. He represents IT/Change Management on Executive Committees to prioritise and control spend across large organisations. His personal experience of shaping and leading global programmes with budgets in excess of £300m and over 3000 staff, involving both Application & Infrastructure change, means John delivers "world class" programmes to achieve maximum efficiency with minimum fuss. John creates a common vision across all departments, including working with CEOs and Global Heads to turn that vision into reality.