The modern CIO needs to be creative, collaborative and flexible – report

5 Jul 2016

The modern CIO needs to be creative, collaborative and flexible – like felt!

BT interviewed more than 1,000 CIOs in 11 countries around the world to uncover the changes and challenges facing the modern CIO.

Digital transformation is now a hot topic of discussion across multiple industries, and these conversations are no longer limited to the offices of CIOs and IT decision-makers.

With digital possibilities now bleeding into all aspects of business, the limitations of its scope are as distant as its full potential. According the the World Economic Forum, we have just breached the threshold of this ‘fourth industrial revolution’, the combination of cyber-physical systems heralding concepts such as the internet of things (IoT).

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This is the context that frames BT’s 2016 CIO Report, which consulted 1,000 CIOs and senior IT decision-makers at multinational corporations in 11 countries: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, the UK and the US.

What’s evident among their responses is that the CIO role is evolving further still from BT’s previous reports on the role. Summarised as “one of the most demanding roles in business”, BT sees today’s digital CIO as strategic, creative, growth-minded and cost-conscious, understanding both technology and people, and balancing control with empowerment.

“The most successful CIOs are embracing change rather than resisting it,” the report advises.

‘The most successful CIOs are embracing change rather than resisting it’

BT’s report suggests that the CIO role is so refreshed that there is no longer a reliable blueprint for what it entails. “We all need to have an open mind,” it reads. “The constraints of technology are lifting, enabling people to achieve more.”

Modern CIOs are critical decision-makers

According to BT, the modern CIO is more involved in overall business strategy than ever before.

By far, the majority (72pc) of senior IT decision-makers reported that this role has become more central in the boardroom, up from 59pc in 2014.

BT CIO Report 2016

Chart via BT CIO Report 2016

Creativity is required

Creative use of technoogy is now a key differentiator for the CIO. Almost three quarters (70pc) of boardrooms expect their CIO to be an innovative force and creative disruptor.

The measure of success has changed

The CIO’s responsibility is no longer limited to transforming costs or efficiency, but also improving customer experience and enabling disruptive growth. This corresponds to a change in how they measure success, with 65pc now tracking different KPIs than in the previous year.

This is perhaps the biggest shift in the way in which CIOs are thinking. “Increasingly, our KPIs are oriented firmly towards members’ and colleagues’ experience of service,” said Nationwide CIO Debra Bailey.

Empowered end users need a collaborative approach

IT spending outside of the IT department has increased over the past two years and is expected to represent almost one-fifth (18pc) of IT spending by 2018. The impact of this has seen 80pc of senior IT decision-makers feeling that they are losing control of their IT estate – a figure BT expects to grow.

End users are increasingly empowered and all areas of the business are pushing to adapt the latest technology, creating a complex relationship with the IT function.

However, some CIOs haven’t identified this shift as a threat but an opportunity to work better in partnership with other aspects of the business.

BT CIO Report 2016

Chart via BT CIO Report 2016. Click to view full size.

Challenges are opportunities

As a result, the CIO must become a key enabler across the business, allowing for technological freedom where needed but all the while ensuring data security, a robust infrastructure and efficiencies of scale.

While 43pc identified a new challenge for the CIO in developing business models to cope with increased connetivity and engagement, one-third (33pc) of organisations recognised that the move to the cloud can actually be a catalyst to improve security.

“Handled carefully, changes can be an opportunity to rethink the risk, and better protect the organisation and its people,” said Mark Hughes, chief security officer at BT.

Need to practise flexibility

Flexibility is required for the CIO and IT leaders to transform from a command and control centre to a team of enablers and innovators. Thus, faster adoption of technology trends and more agile working practices are now a crucial part of the CIO skillset.

BT CIO Report 2016

Chart via BT CIO Report 2016

“Trying to keep complete control of anything digital will fail. All parts of the business have great ideas. It’s about building the right relationships and becoming their trusted adviser,” said David Heppenstall, CIO of De Beers Group. “You’ve got to be open, agile and flexible.”

‘You’ve got to be open, agile and flexible’

The hang-ups

A key challenge identified in the report is that two-thirds (61pc) of senior IT decision-makers feel forced to spend more time maintaining current IT systems than searching for new solutions. One respondent said that the CIO is still operating with “one foot firmly trapped in the server room door”.

Additionally, 43pc identified more time spent dealing with corporate issue as one of the biggest challenges to the CIO role.

BT CIO Report 2016

Chart via BT CIO Report 2016

Other challenges include staff training pressures (34pc), not to mention recruiting talent with appropriate digital skills (32pc). As CIOs adjust to these changes, there will be gaps in their team’s skills that need to be addressed, and the ability to consult and advise other business functions was identified as the skill most lacking (79pc). Respondents also noted a lack of capability around the internet of things, innovation, cloud, and software-defined networks.

CIO image via Shutterstock

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.