CIOs Shift From IT Leader to Business Leader
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The changing role of the CIO is cause for both excitement and some trepidation, as more business units expect CIOs to drive strategy—and revenue.
By D.P. Morrissey
The role of the technology executive is undergoing a fundamental transformation, and during this change CIOs are expected to implement mobility, cloud and BYOD initiatives while assisting business units with strategy and revenue-producing technology. IT departments are now being driven by business needs as well, and the CIO’s seat at the executive round table has never been so critical to a company’s success. The changing role of the CIO, the growing complexity of networks and the seemingly endless streams of data are reasons for both excitement and concern.
As the line between tech guru and business innovator blurs, CIOs are transitioning into a more prominent role in the business. The stakes have grown, the responsibilities have grown, and so too has the clout of the CIO.
A recent survey from Qvidian revealed just how important the CIO is to business and revenue growth. CIOs hold a vital position that can have an enormous impact on a sales team’s success. CIOs can accelerate business growth by automating backend research and administrative tasks, freeing up sales teams to do what they do best: Sell.
Additionally, tech executives who take an interest in the sales process are able to explore solutions that explain the sales process and recommend content that can maximize touch points at every stage of the buyer journey.
One major pain point sales teams face is ineffectual search. 17% of Qvidian’s survey respondents are easily accessing the right content for each particular selling situation—which leaves 83% of sales people that are left struggling to locate the content they need, likely abandoning their search and relying on outdated content instead.
Information is power, and CIOs are able to better equip sales teams with the proper information—delivered at the right time—in order to address a prospective clients’ needs.
“CIOs now have to think in terms of how IT can enable business velocity and the role they play as an equal partner at the executive round table,” said Shehzad Merchant, an expert in enterprise networking and Chief Technical Officer at Gigamon.
“The role of IT has evolved from that of a supporting organization to one that is a business enabler and business driver. That is a fundamental shift…Whereas traditionally IT was viewed as a cost and productivity function designed to support the employee base, in today’s digital, online and on-demand world, IT has become more critical to delivering value and impacting business outcomes,” Merchant said.
“CIOs have to increasingly think of themselves as being business leaders, i.e., they have to think strategically about where the business is going, what the business drivers and requirements are going to be, and how IT can play the role of a business driver and enabler,” he said.
The role of the CIO is not for those weak in the knees. Business units have more expectations from IT, and CIOs often find themselves overrun with requests from numerous departments. A report from The Hackett Group, titled "IT Key Issues in 2015: Innovation and Agility Are Driving the IT Agenda," revealed that CIOs and their tech teams must respond more quickly to shifts in business demands, while decreasing expenses through greater efficiencies—no simple task.
More than 170 executives from global companies took part in the report. Of them, 48% said their company wants to drive down the cost of IT functions through efficiency and productivity improvement. 32% said they're looking for IT to improve their company's customer experience/service levels. Additionally, 65% said innovating their company's business model, product and service offerings remains a top priority.
Niel Nickolaisen is the CTO of OC Tanner, a company that makes employee recognition awards. Nickolaisen knows of the importance of weighing in on business innovation.
“I believe that in the old days (about 9 months or so ago) an IT leader could be successful through the quality delivery of IT utility services,” he said. “This worked well since many of us came up through the utility services ranks–we were amazing at delivering these services.”
But times have changed.
“Now, since every aspect of the organization utilizes technology for everything (social, mobile, analytics, cloud, marketing and lead generation, collaboration, fulfillment, etc.) successful IT leaders need to also lead in the use of technology to drive all types of innovation and change. At the same time, we cannot forget or not pay attention to the utility services as they are mission critical–no matter how cool or compelling our analytics, no one can use them if the servers or network are down.”
There is a balance that must be maintained, he said.
“Much of our credibility comes from our ability to reliably deliver those utility services–if we are the gang that cannot shoot straight operationally, why would anyone trust us with the organization’s strategy and innovation?”
D.P. Morrissey is a freelance writer who covers business and technology. He lives in New York City.