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CIO in the digital age

5 Key Items on A CIO’s Checklist in the Digital Age

The digital world that we currently live in, the one populated by cloud, e-commerce, social media, and IoT has drastically changed the way businesses operate. It is causing dramatic shifts in business processes, policies, attitudes, thinking, and even leadership roles.


And in this era of digital transformation, the CIO’s role needs a revolutionary upgrade. A Deloitte report titled ‘The dual roles of the CIO in the digital age’ states that 50% of CIOs find it difficult to cope with the rapid change brought on by digital technologies. This is because traditionally CIOs are in charge of the IT department as mere providers of service, and maintenance duties. But, the present digital age needs them to not just be enablers, but creators of innovative products and services that support the business.

Today’s CIO has to perform the regular duties of managing IT infrastructure, ensuring consistent service and security, while also taking a holistic view of the business, and using their knowledge and command over technology to increase revenues, improve customer experience, draw valuable insights from data, and create a strategy that will drive their organization’s digital transformation. 

Recent Challenges Faced By CIOs 

Security continues to be a dominant issue that CIOs have to grapple with. Apart from on-going efforts to protect against data breaches and malware attacks, the IoT, new threats such as ransomware and employee phishing are creating fresh challenges for today’s CIO, and new security threats.

Talent is another top challenge that CIOs face in a rapidly and constantly evolving digital landscape. New technologies around cloud, data analytics, AI, and automation are creating demand for a host of skills that outweigh supply. Gartner’s 2016 CIO Agenda Report states that 22% of CIOs find shortage of talent to be a barrier to success.

Additionally, changes in the way business is conducted, brought on by today’s  digital world, is putting additional pressure on CIOs to become multi-faceted, and to cater to the expectations of a wider range of stakeholders. A 2017 Spiceworks survey found that 40% of IT professionals in their current role were burnt out, while 38% were striving to find a better work-life balance. 

A CIO’s Checklist 

There is no turning back the digital transformation that organizations and the world at large is going through. And given the unique challenges that it poses, CIOs need to acquire new skills, drive strategy, and implement initiatives that help them steer this change in the right direction. Here are 5 key items that should be on the checklist of every CIO who wants their organization to weather the digital storm, and emerge successful. 

  1. Aligning Technology with Business – Ensuring that IT responds to the needs of business is an important function for any CIO, and irrespective of changes in business or technology, it remains relevant, and demonstrates ITs value to the business. This means CIOs can’t operate in isolation with respect to IT. They have to understand the organization’s priorities and key stakeholders’ needs, and aid in achieving them by aligning IT with the business. As business-driven IT projects become the norm, there is a higher need for IT to adapt to the business, rather than the other way around. Digitization is further blurring the lines between IT and other departments, as technology is at the core of their activities. The Deloitte report cites an example of sound IT-business alignment at Dell, where, “IT and marketing organizations share a team that reports to both the CMO and the CIO. Technology plans may be revised quarterly or even monthly in order to respond to the needs of the business.”                                     
  2. Cybersecurity – Security and privacy concerns are a constant, as data breaches cause massive financial losses, and can even lead to damaged reputations, which takes years of time and money to rectify. For all the ease and convenience that a digital world provides, they are countered by increasing security risks. Big Data, Cloud, BYOD, consumerization of IT are definitely helping businesses, but are also keeping CIOs up at night due to the security threats they present. Controls, checks, and strict data governance and security measures are needed, without clamping down on flexibility and innovation. A tricky balance for CIOs to strike.
  3. Agility, Flexibility, and Adaptability – Cloud has helped companies by reducing the cost of IT infrastructure it has also become easier to deploy. This means organizations don’t have to make huge capital investments in complex and rigid in-house technology. They can outsource to SaaS providers that offer the best solutions, and can alter these solutions to meet the constantly changing demands of the business. IT needs to be agile and flexible, to match not just its own organization’s needs, but also to support clients. In a fast-paced competitive environment, the ability to adapt is a ‘make or break’ feature. Further, despite the ease of use of technology on the surface, the complexity at the back-end has increased. The proliferation of IT has led to larger number of stakeholders using it, and across multiple platforms. And IT has to ensure a seamless and consistent experience, regardless of the changes happening in the background. Automation, AI, and Analytics are key technologies aiding IT in being agile.
  4. Innovation – As the role of CIOs is evolving and expanding, they are looking to do more than serve core IT functions. Gerry McCartney, CIO of Purdue University believes CIOs need more than technical skills. He says, “Imaginative people can envision where threats are coming from and where opportunities lie, as well as having the know-how to take advantage of these opportunities. That hasn’t been required of CIOs up until now.” But, a great imagination is still restricted by budgetary constraints. CIOs are expected to do more with less, while ensuring innovation, quality, agility, and cost-efficiency. CIOs need to find creative ways of addressing these demands. Automation is one such quantifiable technology that enables innovation while enhancing agility, and reducing costs. Innovation is not restricted to IT anymore; it is a basic ingredient expected in every business function today and CIOs need to ensure that IT acts as an enabler for Innovation by “empowering” end users and customers to self-serve their IT needs. This could be done by introducing self-service and self-help platforms.
  5. Addressing the Talent Gap – A top concern for CIOs is availability of skilled talent. New technologies are being churned out faster than the talent to manage them, and the rate of obsolescence of each new piece of technology is quite high. This means that by the time there is an available pool of capable personnel, the technology is on its way out the door.  Automation is a staffing solution that frees up employees, who can then be trained in higher level non-mundane tasks, to achieve expertise. Engaging employees in repetitive tasks that can be automated, is a waste of a valuable and limited resource, while also bringing down their productivity and morale. Shifting towards self-healing infrastructure can reduce the burden on operational teams. CIOs need to take a long-term view, and equip employees with skills to meet the demands of the present, as well as the future.

What the Future holds 

Innovators, Creators of new products and services, Accelerators of strategies and decisions, are the breed of CIOs required to navigate organizations successfully in a digital world. They have to move from being reactive to being proactive and responsive. And while some CIOs might be reluctant to adapt, there are several who are keen to take on the mantle of game-changer. Gartner’s 2016 CIO Agenda Report states that 39% of CIOs are already their enterprise’s digital leaders, while 34% are innovation leaders. Additionally, as CIOs take on a well-rounded view and understanding of business, they become well suited to head their respective organizations. This is reflected in the Deloitte report, which states that 70% of CIOs aspire to become CEOs.

CIOs are to be the drivers of technology and business. Hence, they need to maintain their practical, grounded in engineering, process oriented technical skills, while also being risk-takers and disruptors of methodologies that don’t serve the business

Mushtaq Ahmad

CIO & Global Head CIS Service Transformation at CSS Corp

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