The New CIO: From Provider to Empowerer

Companies that are collaborating around data and have high levels of trust internally are on the path to success. A vital component of this success is the CIO, who has enormous opportunity to empower business units to innovate in the new digital realm. And if a CIO isn’t up to the task of facilitating this transformation? It might require a major occupational change. Just ask Ben Grinnell, managing director and global head of CIO Services at North Highland. Grinnell believes CIOs need a complete rethink of their roles as they take on an increasingly challenging agenda. He’s seen how the role of CIO has changed over the last decade, and he’s consulted tech leaders on how to help move their organizations in the right direction. Grinnell took time to discuss with CIO Insight a variety of issues that businesses face today, including what happens if a business doesn’t go digital (hint: it doesn’t end well), the democratization of data and how to make a digital transformation as painless as possible.

CIO Insight: I’m sure you’ve seen your share of management trends and shifts over the years. How would you describe the role of today’s CIO?

Ben Grinnell: It’s a role that has huge opportunity, but one of the most challenging agendas. The role needs a complete rethink. The role of 10-15 years ago hasn’t gone away; it’s still required, but the way it achieves results has changed significantly. For example, many corporate IT systems are now much more efficiently provided as SaaS. Desktop and end-user devices are going the same way. The service from IT is not one of provider in this space but of integrator.

Another increasingly important role is driving differentiation and innovation in the company’s use of technology. This is immediately evident at the front end, with Web and mobile solutions increasingly being the customers’ channels of choice, but it doesn’t stop there. Technology is becoming a big differentiator in the workplace, driving not just workforce efficiency but also recruitment, retention and innovation. It’s also differentiating how you deal with partners and supply chain. If you look at examples like Uber, its biggest differentiator is how efficiently it enables its supply chain–the drivers. Lots of taxi firms have an app to book a taxi, not many have developed the straight through processing that makes Uber work. This role is not to be the Chief Technology Innovation Officer, but to enable technology innovation across the organization. That’s an empowering rather than a controlling role, which can be hard to achieve when you also have to keep everything safe and secure.

This second role is the one CIOs need to aspire to. A really good CIO in a start-up can probably cover this new scope, but the transition is huge for a CIO at a big, long-established company. There is a huge transformation of all the old IT. Compared to modern options, just keeping this structure running is overly complex and time-consuming. I’ve spoken to CIOs who have moved from brick-and-mortar companies to born-on-the-Web ones who, having experienced both, believe the former will never be able to make the transition required.

CIO Insight: How would you have described the CIO’s role 10 or 15 years ago?

Grinnell: The role was focused around standardization. Implementing systems to make processes more efficient and scalable. The drive was largely around getting data to management to enable comparisons and decision. Systems were used to drive process standardization. As more and more of the company’s data and processes moved onto corporate IT systems, the CIO’s role was to keep them running and to reduce cost and complexity by consolidation.

CIO Insight: Has there been a democratization of data and information recently, where data that once resided in the domain of only a few is now available to all business stakeholders?

Grinnell: Absolutely. Data has exploded. The ability to collect, analyse and visualise is now everyone’s–as a result, more and more areas of the business are now required to do that in real-time so they can act more nimbly and remain competitive. Interoperability has also exploded, meaning it’s much easier to combine data from various sources and process it. Again, the role of the CIO needs to change from provider and controller to facilitator and empowerer.

CIO Insight: Has data and who, exactly, “owns” it led to any in-fighting in the C-suite?

Grinnell: There is some friction, largely between IT and Sales and Marketing, where Sales and Marketing have innovated through shadow IT and through many point solutions. They’ve used shadow IT because they perceive IT won’t be responsive enough or IT have said they can’t help right now. When they need to scale or cross sell, they need IT to help. Often the point solutions are demonstrating value and the demand is strong. It’s too late for IT to say no or to architect with this in mind, so they feel they are forced to take on something that was done in spite of them that they now have to fix.

People talk about two-speed IT, but it’s not a sustainable solution. Things like the customer record will always exist on both sides. You end up having to slow down, or do fast speed on all systems that impact a) the customer, b) the supply chain that fulfils customer orders and c) the employees that provide customer services… that doesn’t leave much on the slow side.

CIO Insight: Can jockeying for control over data be viewed as a positive action?

Grinnell: It depends on what form that takes, but typically no. Data is out of the box. If it’s controlled too strictly, people will turn to other sources. Successful, savvy companies are collaborating around data and have high levels of trust internally. I don’t think that’s compatible with ‘jockeying for control.’

CIO Insight: What can organizations do to make a digital transformation as painless as possible?

Grinnell: They can begin by recognizing the scale of the problem and the breadth of the solution. There are four common facets of digital strategy that will help align an organization and set the path forward for implementing a successful digital strategy:

*Digital workplace technology transformation: If you aren’t empowering your workforce to operate in a digital way, then they won’t be able to see the opportunities digital presents, and you will constrain innovation, automation, simplification, well-being and retention.

*Digital customer engagement: This is the most common thing people refer to when they think about digital strategy–channel shift, multi-channel, omni channel, customer journey mapping and the plethora of new opportunities to engage with your customer in a way that is really tailored and meaningful for them.

*Digital partner & supply chain integration: This is possibly the biggest opportunity and often overlooked. It’s full of efficiencies and new business opportunities. Straight through processing can remove whole departments and fundamentally change the service you are able to provide.

*Digital business model disruption: This is both an opportunity and a big threat. Doing the three above will open up opportunities to fundamentally change your business model. Not doing them will leave those opportunities to new market entrants or your competitors. I haven’t seen many companies addressing all elements of this simultaneously or making the scale of investment necessary. Many are still working in the old way too much, requiring business cases for each investment and treating everything as a project to specify and complete, rather than as a product to evolve. A mind-set shift is required, followed by a shift in the way the organization implements and accounts for change.

CIO Insight: How important is it to have an agile game-plan and an agile team that can roll out, say, a mobile app or a customer feedback channel, in days instead of months?

Grinnell: Agile is a companywide transformation. An agile team is a good starting point. It can demonstrate the benefits and start to change mindsets, but it can also be a place for all those of an outdated mindset to push away all the new ways of working so they don’t have to deal with them in their area. Many companies go to the market to buy the app development because they don’t do anything like it in-house. Again, that can help if they collaborate fully in the development and learn about current ways of working, but the company will still need to transform, not buy a sticky plaster.

CIO Insight: What happens to a business that takes too long to go digital?

Grinnell: They die. Some very suddenly, others slowly and painfully–deserted, first by their customers, then by their suppliers and their employees. In the last century, companies that failed to industrialize died over decades. Every statistic you can find shows the average life of a big company is decreasing. Digital is driving pace in a way that is unprecedented through a three factor attack:

*Scope of services that can be improved with available technology;

*Rate of technology advancement;

*Technological expectations of customers, supplier reps and employees.

Patrick K. Burke is senior editor of CIO Insight. 

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