The power of today’s CIO

7 Jun 2012

CIOs and IT directors across the world face new challenges, says Albert Ellis, chief executive of Harvey Nash

In the past they just had to keep the lights on, but these days the CIO or IT manager has to influence mobile, security and social media strategies, as well.

The role of chief information officer in a large corporate or government agency or that of IT manager or director in an SME has never been more challenging or interesting.

On the one hand, the rising importance of the IT economy and e-commerce means they are challenged by their employers to turn the organisation’s investment in IT into a revenue generator.

Allied to this the rise of smartphones and social media create new opportunities for them to reinforce this value-generating role, to build everything from mobile apps to smartphones to Twitter and Facebook strategies to gauge customer sentiment.

But on the other side of the coin, IT security nightmares have never loomed so large – consider the handiwork of Anonymous and the major Sony breach last year. Pressure on budgets and skills shortages mean CIOs and IT directors face an ever-present challenge to protect the organisation’s data.

CIO salaries


56pc: Percentage of CIOs focusing on projects that make money from technology

44pc: Percentage of CIOs that saw a budget increase this year

21pc: Rate of increase in demand for mobile skills this year

15pc: Rate of increase in demand for social media skills this year

Source: Harvey Nash CIO Report 2012

The average salary for CIOs globally has increased by 2.9pc in the last year; it is currently $203,986, up from $198,031 in 2011.

However, expectations of salary growth in 2012 remain subdued; 61pc of CIOs are experiencing a salary freeze this year (compared to 50pc in 2011).

These are some of the findings in the international Harvey Nash report, which will be unveiled in its entirety for Irish CIOs at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin this evening.

Harvey Nash CEO Albert Ellis says across the board CIOs are under pressure to reduce costs. “But they are also increasingly under pressure to produce growth plans for their organisation. The key is to find ways of turning technology into a revenue generator for the business. They are finding it quite easy to throw money at social media and mobile apps which tie in well with marketing efforts and reaching a mass market.”

But, Ellis warns, security is the key hurdle, not helped by the rise of cloud computing and the proliferation of smartphones.

“Most CIOs realise that the company’s workforce is becoming a walking nightmare in terms of data leaks.”

In the present recession, he adds, certain organisations are becoming ripe targets for cyber attacks. “Banks are in the headlines for scandals surrounding overpaid executives, foreclosures, etc, and no doubt disaffected employees who face layoffs pose as much a risk as hackers. Banks are well aware they are targets for hackers and are investing heavily in their security.”

There are positive signs that IT budgets are less restricted in 2012 as organisations pursue growth; 44pc of global CIOs saw a budget increase this year compared to 39pc in 2011 and 28pc in 2010.

More than half of CIOs in 2012 (56pc) say projects that make money from technology rather than save money are the priority for their CEO.

Strategic priorities now focus on improving time to market for new products and services (a priority for 24pc of CIOs versus only 17pc in 2011); supporting mergers and acquisitions (15pc, up from 12pc in 2011); and investing time, focus and resources in mobile commerce, which is up from 17pc in 2011 to 22pc in 2012.

Focus on data security

Margaret Troy is head of IT for GE Money in Ireland, which is part of GE Capital. In her role, she has responsibility for providing infrastructure services to other GE businesses in Ireland, primarily GE Treasury and GE Capital EMEA HQ.

Troy says that across the board budgets are being more tightly managed and IT is no exception.

“Security is a big focus for all CIOs. As demand grows for access to data from a proliferation of different devices and channels, so too does the exposure to potential data breaches. Maintaining the confidentiality of company and customer information is therefore of critical importance.

“The financial services industry is heavily regulated so, for me, one of the biggest challenges is to be able to adapt systems to comply with new and changing regulations, and to do so quickly and with minimal impact to projects and the general running of the business.

“Ten years ago people’s experience of IT in the corporate environment was better than at home. This is changing and now in many cases the reverse is true. This consumerisation of IT is creating an ‘always on’ expectation for staff and customers. Now that the boundaries between the physical and virtual workplace are blurred, the challenge – and opportunity – for organisations is to standardise the experience and make sure it’s secure.

“In financial services, where I work, CIOs are utilising cloud computing technologies either on-premise or privately hosted for private or sensitive data and are using public cloud systems for publicly available data. It’s still a relatively new phenomenon that will take time to mature,” Troy says.

IT more aware of customers

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Donagh Healy is CIO at Vodafone Ireland. His role involves supporting the Irish business across mobile and fixed line, delivering and supporting fixed/mobile convergent capabilities and systems.

He says the role of IT in the business today is moving from the back office to being more in tune with knowing exactly what is going on with the customer.

“We are now a lot more proactive in recognising when there is going to be an IT failure before it happens.

“Users used to tell if there were problems but nine times out of 10 we would know about the issue beforehand.”

The recession saw Vodafone in Ireland batten down the hatches to improve service improvement and customer lost hours were reduced 70pc.

“We’ve introduced new equations aimed at being more proactive and joined-up, such as net promoter scores where everyone has goals and the key is putting the customer at the heart of everything we do. So what we’ve been doing has been about bringing the technology staff who sat traditionally in the back office closer to the customer in the office or the street. We set innovation challenges for the team and by doing that we bring proactive solutions into the business,” Healy explains.

Wanted: mobile solutions skills

Demand for skills is returning with a particular emphasis on mobile solutions. In a long-running trend analysis, the Harvey Nash report highlights an expected uptick in demand for skills that support innovation, however, the intensity in demand for mobile skills was greater than expected. Given the rapidly expanding range of mobile platforms, security and resilience skills have also increased in demand (17pc in 2012 versus 13pc in 2011).

Skills associated with the rise of social media are another group to have seen growth this year (15pc in 2012 versus 11pc in 2011).

Digital media is firmly on the CIO’s agenda with almost two-thirds of global CIOs actively promoting the development of mobile phone and tablet applications for their organisations.

New technology trends, new security concerns

Maurice Mortell, managing director of TelecityGroup in Ireland, agrees with Ellis that for many organisations smartphones and new trends like bring your own device (BYOD), while opportunities in themselves, present security nightmares.

He points to a recent exercise by Symantec where 20 smartphones were left in public places – from bars to bus stations – and they were all monitored remotely.

“Without fail, separate to the one or two devices that were handed in by people doing the right thing, every person who got hold of one of these smartphones were seen to be delving into the meat of personal and corporate information, emails and data.

“Hackers are out there developing ways to get into mobile devices and a race is on to ensure they are encrypted before the underworld seizes on this opportunity.

“The conundrum for CIOs now is providing devices with great capability to executives, but how do you protect them?”

Raomal Perera is a serial entrepreneur in the mobile and telecoms space, having been the co-founder of two technology companies – Valista was acquired and ISOCOR was listed on NASDAQ. Perera’s new venture ThousandSeeds works with enterprises that want to create a start-up culture to create an environment for disruptive innovation.

Perera gets a sense that a balance has been struck by CIOs in identifying the real risks in mobile security.

“You only have to look at the amazing screen quality of devices like the iPhone 4S to realise how far it has come from my day when it was all about WAP and everything was done on slower networks,” he says.

“CIOs need to weigh the security risks with mobile devices against what are the real risks to the person and the business.

“These devices are very powerful and with anything like this there’s a lot of good that can be done and a lot of bad that can be done. Issues like child security and fraud are real ones to be worried about. At the same time these devices are capable of finding people in dangerous or traumatic situations.

“The challenge for CIOs offering mobile apps as part of their businesses’ approach to service delivery or marketing is to figure out how to increase security but at the same time make it easy to use that people would want to use it.”

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