CIOs need to break with the past; choose security over hardware

7 Dec 2011

Harvey Nash CEO Albert Ellis

CIOs crave order, not chaos, and while trends like the consumerisation of IT appear to present both challenge and opportunity, CIOs have bigger fish to fry in terms of strategy and security, the CEO of Harvey Nash told

Harvey Nash CEO Albert Ellis, speaking after last week’s CIO conference in Dublin, explained that march of technology in terms of trends like cloud computing and consumerisation of IT has meant the way has been cleared for CIOs to take a more strategic role in their business and potentially aspire to the role of CEO.

This is a big change from the past when CIOs often wondered were they being listened to at a board room level.

“CIOs are developing attributes that are less technical and more business-oriented, but in 90pc of cases it seems only one in 10 have the ambition to rise to CEO level.

“One of the reasons for this is CIOs grew up with technology roles and will always love technology. But the language has changed and all business transformation is technology-led so that’s a tough one for CIOs who aren’t prepared to leave technology totally behind.”

On the question of consumerisation of IT, where technology users are opting to equip themselves with non-proscribed smartphones, tablet computers and ultrabooks, and many companies are embracing this change in the form of flexible working and ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) policies, Ellis says CIOs aren’t truly as comfortable with this change as you would think.

“CIOs are hard wired for order, for security and for control. But now they are being presented with a chaotic world. Younger workers in the UK could want Apple Macs while their counterparts in Germany want ThinkPads, and others still want computers on their desks. It’s chaotic and for some CIOs a nightmare in terms of security and budget.

“CIOs actually don’t like having too many choices. Consumerisation has imposed choice on the procurer and this has implications for data in terms of cloud access, hosting and internal storage.

“In previous decades, the old CIO might have loathed Microsoft when it was a new kid on the block, but at least everyone was using Microsoft. Now there’s this chaotic new world of mobile apps, web apps, open source. It’s a complete breakdown in protocol and standards and, therefore, order. CIOs are not the best individuals to cope with change, they like to project manage and be in control of change.”

CIOs need to take charge of security and strategy, not fiddling with cables

But Ellis urges that in times of total change, at a time when firms are being attacked every minute by hackers and co-ordinated attacks by groups like LulzSec and Anonymous, the change in strategic direction should free up CIOs to battle these challenges head on.

“CIOs should use this as an opportunity. Staff have their own private arrangements in terms of hardware, fine. Interestingly, they are discovering that consumers privately have better choice and price than corporations had.

“By allowing consumers to take responsibility for their own hardware and upgrades, CIOs can be less concerned about wires and keeping the lights on and start leaving that part of their job behind.

“CIOs can avoid the complicated hardware arrangements, save money and focus on the more strategic things, like making their business more agile and responsive and fighting off DDOS attacks, for example.

“This is a positive, the silver lining in the consumerisation of IT,” Ellis says.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years