The chameleon CIO

The chameleon CIO

CIOs of the future must embrace blue sky concepts and leave conservative ideas behind

What will your role as CIO be like in 10 years? You know it will change but how will it change and what new skills will you need? Being a CIO has never been easy and it is about to get a lot tougher.

With the information revolution still gaining momentum and major disruptive technologies around every corner, the CIO is uniquely placed and uniquely handicapped to step up to the challenge. Meanwhile, the paradox of IT leadership continues to grow as IT simultaneously becomes critical to an organisation’s future competitive advantage and IT services become commoditised.

The skills the CIO need to navigate this knife-edge of threat and opportunity was the focus of a recent roundtable of CIOs hosted by the IT Management Program at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Competence no guarantee of success

The CIO losers will be relegated to minor management. These are the CIOs who hang onto the skills that have made them successful in the rise to senior IT management.

“The CIO has to stop being a person who has built a career on being risk-averse and driven by structure and process,” said Gartner Executive Programs APAC group vice-president, Linda Price. Continuing to live in the days when a CIO could afford to be the most risk-averse senior manager is a quick way to be relegated beneath the CFO. While risk management is a critical skill for a CIO, too much emphasis on it negates the CIO’s ability to be seen as an innovator — and innovation ultimately drives a company forward.

Price said CIOs who are determined to be task-orientated are lousy marketers and that this will hold them back. Indeed, a growing trend identified by Gartner is the sidelining of traditional IT from the introduction of new technologies in an organisation. A sure sign you are obsolete is being left out of the ‘new’ IT, Price said. These CIOs are tasked with traditional IT while social media, digital strategy and other ‘new’ IT are ‘hot-housed’ outside the IT organisation.

Traditional IT will ultimately be commoditised and outsourced, said Peter Nevin, principal of Nevin Consulting. Vladas Leonas, CIO of Transport Construction Authority, agreed the traditional CIO empire is going to shrink or disappear. Evidence of the trend can be found in the annual State of the CIO survey (see page 40), which has shown an increasing split between CIOs relegated to keeping the lights on and those in a strategic role at the executive table.

Read peer advice from the CIO Executive Council on future-proofing your IT team.

Business challenges

Today every industry is being challenged by technological change. First media organisations had to agonise over whether the internet threat was cyclical or a structural change to the industry. In hindsight it was enormously structural and now other industries such as retail are facing the same challenges, Gartner's Price said.

New challenges come in many forms; a company’s brand can be destroyed in seconds and governments destroyed almost as quickly due to the increasingly wide reach of technology, said George Weston Foods IT executive leader and group manager for enterprise architecture, Al Sheehan. As organisations embrace emerging technologies and the business opportunities they create, IT will touch every business strategy, he said.

Key skills for the next decade

The panel predicted that the role of the CIO in the next decade will be as challenging and complex as it was in the last; however, it will require a whole new skill set. CIOs will have to become innovation specialists and evangelists for the opportunities that emerging capabilities bring to an organisation, said (now former) CIO of Family & Community Services with the NSW Government, Kerry Holling.

Leonas agreed that CIO success will be all about enablement, sustainability and knowledge management, defined by an ability to help the company embrace technology that may be happening in-house or somewhere else.

To succeed CIOs will have to learn to “talk blue sky” at the executive table and leave their conservative beliefs behind, Price said. This may mean leaving technical presentations to other IT staff, allowing CIOs to participate as equals to their executive peers.

Operational challenges will also change. Price saw the need for the CIO to perfect fast and efficient M&A capabilities in the face of increasing M&A activity. CIOs need to build the capability to do these things very swiftly and very efficiently in a low-cost manner, she said.

Holling observed that information management strategy — not IS strategy — is the key to the CIO role of the future.

“Information is at the centre of our title because irrespective of where services are being delivered, whether they are in our data centre or somewhere else in the Cloud, the information is your intellectual property,” he said. “Do you have the information needed to make sound decisions? Can you present information back to the business in a way that is meaningful and help people do their job?”

Nevin said managing information flows will become a key CIO function as systems and problems become “softer”. He cited social media and the challenge of writing a business case for social media compared to resource planning (ERP) as a perfect example. The challenge for the CIO is converting these nebulous concepts into business success, he said.

The list of skills and personal characteristics expected of a CIO is already a long and exhausting one. In the future add courage, political nous, resilience, patience, sense of humour, change agent, excellent listener and talent manager. It is quite a shopping list. Ultimately, however, the panel concluded the most critical skill for a CIO in the next decade will be effective leadership.

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