As we head deeper into 2013, the signs that this year will be unforgiving for napping CIOs are there, lit up in glaring neon. The second week of January saw the collapse of three retail empires - HMV, Blockbuster and Jessops - a demise that many critics attribute to myopia around the business impacts of the internet.
"In the movie rental business, you needed your CIO to give advance warning that the internet and digital downloads are fundamentally changing the sector's business model,"? says Ryan Rubin, director of risk consultancy Protiviti.
"It can be a question of standing up to the board and saying: 'Unless we do something about movie-on-demand and downloads, we're going out of business'."
However Rubin also knows how hard it can be for the CIO to have that conversation and that on some boards it's impossible. "Often the CIO is just not in that position; they are perceived to be there simply to support the decisions of the board," he says. The need to keep a business lookout while keeping the lights on can easily be misjudged and any IT systems failure can result in an inward-looking CIO who fails to see the change coming.
It's a conversation that has been going on from some time and the volume has just been turned up. At the IT Directors Forum last autumn, the keynote speech by Clive White, chief operating officer of consultancy Leading Resolutions, dissected the role of CIO into different permutations of the acronym: chief integration officer, chief infrastructure officer and chief innovation officer, suggesting that the final destination for forward-thinking incumbents is chief influencing officer.
"Technology is both creating and is expected to have solutions to social and political changes on a global scale. The CIO will be expected to have answers, lead many of these emerging discussions, pre-empt and have mitigations available for significant events," White explains. But for the moment, he says, 'CIO' could easily be short for chief insecurity officer as the IT chief is pulled in seemingly opposing directions.
The need for a fresh focus on innovation is certainly a view promoted by Forrester Research. The analyst house calculates that a typical CIO spends roughly 60% of their time managing applications and infrastructure. This could drop to 25% and, in time, reckons Chip Gliedman, vice president of Forrester, "Enlightened CIOs will triple the amount of time and effort currently spent acting as their organisation's 'chief innovation officer'."
Gliedman urges CIOs to push more operational tasks to trusted associates, freeing themselves up to devote more time to business value creation. The time spent working as the chief innovation officer will be more as coordinator and facilitator - driving business value through the greater use and integration of technology - than as operations and control.
Leading Resolutions' White believes another scenario could be that the CIO role splits into two: incumbents who opt for a job that focuses on the 'tin and wire' elements will end up on the supplier side of the fence. Those who are keen on - and more capable at - the business end of things will have to start sharpening their influencing skills and building stronger alliances across the boardroom, specifically with the chief marketing officer (CMO).
The CMO will become an increasingly important partner for the CIO as social media becomes the de facto tool for retaining and communicating with customers. Social media as part of the IT infrastructure is a trend that will make the performance of the CIO more transparent across the entire organisation, warns White. "It will also make the performance visible to and judged by the customer directly," he says.
To break free from the IT 'glass house' and maintain a seat and influence at the top table, the CIO will have to contribute on a much wider scale within and outside of their business. "They will have to master new non-IT skills and operate not just outside of the 'glass box' but way beyond it," says White.
That time may not be so far away but many CIOs have yet to decide where their future lies, warns White.
"When I posed the question to delegates, 'What side of the line are you sitting now, innovation or tin and wire?' there was just an uncomfortable silence."
We met three CIOs who have already moved to the innovation side of the line, and asked them how they operate in their day-to-day roles.
Chief innovation officer in CIO's clothing
Two years ago The Aintree University Hospital (AUH) NHS Foundation Trust took the paper out of clinicians' work, improving patient care and enabling the hospital to sell services to the wider community in the process. Ward Priestman, director of informatics, proposed and implemented the strategy.
"The CEO was driving through change; he'd been in the role for six years and he wanted us to be able to offer more freedom and choice to patients," explains Priestman. Specifically, the trust was looking to grow the business outside the hospital and to explore services such as selling community and diagnostic services.
"In order to expand services we had to be able to access information and to have a nimbleness that others don't possess," says Priestman. AUH's status as a foundation trust enabled Priestman to be more commercially minded, and to successfully sell the benefits of a radical, forms-recognition approach to the mammoth digital scanning project.
For this public sector player, innovation and not austerity with its focus on cost savings, was the chief driver. "The project coincided with the austerity era but was not the driver for it," explains Priestman. "Once implemented, however, cost savings flowed out of it," he says.
When Priestman started in the job three years ago, the AUH was poised to spend £15 million on a brand new paper medical records library. Now instead it has a state-of-the-art endoscopy suite. Going paperless has saved 30% of floor space resulting in a £13.5 million estate benefit, while the £1.5 million capital outlay of the project of was recouped in year one.
Professor Mike Pearson, consultant physician, praises the thoroughness of the new system. "Some trusts have just scanned the whole patient record, which is useless as doctors are presented with thousands of PDF pages and accessing information is almost impossible. The innovative indexing developed for our solution means we can find many results as quickly, or faster, than using paper," he says.
To build the paperless system, a senior clinician was seconded to Ward's team who worked for him two days a week.
The involvement of a senior clinician meant that not only were the user requirements spot on but that the project carried credibility. As Ward concedes, the technology was the easy bit - the people was the hard part. "Clinicians carry a level of credibility that I just don't have."
How does the day job work?
Ward Priestman, director of informatics, Aintree University Hospital NHS Trust
"Pretty much along the lines of the chief infrastructure, innovation and integration officer set out in the Leading Resolutions thesis. I manage my time and allocate staff. Currently I work two days a week for Informatics Merseyside where I run their innovation department (this also provides services to the AUH).
"The remaining three days are divvied between management of the organisation, which includes being on call out of hours, and I spend the two remaining days with my team, with roughly half a day on infrastructure and nearly a day on systems implementation.
"I find most organisations have a lot of fires to put out, and initially I spent a lot of time ensuring there were no problems with the systems. Now I can be more future-facing."
The idea of chief influencing officer sums it up for Priestman. "The NHS is a very political organisation. Politicians use us as a football by setting targets and exercising central control. This filters down and stakeholders play politics at the board table. You have to navigate the IT function through all that and still deliver."
IT and measured entrepreneurialism
PZ Cussons, global developer of brands for emerging markets, has as its heartbeat an ethos of 'measured entrepreneurialism'. Richard Steward, its former CIO, explains that anyone running IT in such a melting pot of innovation must have their feet firmly on the ground.
"The starting point is that everything in IT has to be done for a business reason. You have to ask the basic questions: What are we doing for the business? Where is it going? What are its key markets? What business capabilities do we have to develop?" he says.
When Steward joined PZ, the big push was on infrastructure: the global WAN, the LAN, a big piece around the service desk and a way of managing processes all had to be overhauled. The rationale for all this was to have a common set of processes so that businesses could function both locally and globally.
"If you make something in one place and sell in another, the supply chain has to be joined up," says Steward. One of his first tasks was to build a global data network, a commodity piece but essential to support the global business.
Entrepreneurial flair is called for, too, but this has to be engrained in the role, advises Steward. "First and foremost, you have to be a business leader - who happens to be responsible for IT. I like to say a key part of the CIO's role is to understand the business process model," he says.
Whereas in a lot of organisations, things 'just happen', increasingly in the effective enterprise there are clear business processes in order to be efficient. These can be then embedded in the IT applications, with an appropriate infrastructure supporting them underneath.
Historically, IT departments have run a bunch of infrastructure and application services and it's still possible to go and buy stuff, such as a new ERP system, to do that. But to run a more modern enterprise, reflects Steward, you need to do end-to-end service management.
"I don't like to talk about ITIL because that's IT vocabulary - but we're talking about transparent and holistic end-to-end services. These flow from the customer - or user - through to the vendor or third parties who are delivering the solution, with IT acting as broker, somewhere in the middle."
How does the day job work?
Richard Steward, former CIO, PZ Cussons
"If you live and breathe IT you don't consciously [allocate time to] the different CIO sub-roles of integration, infrastructure and innovation. The shift towards a business focus is just a product of a new way of working: the complexity of and the speed to markets require interoperability between all parts of the business. The connector for all this just happens to be IT, which places the CIO at the centre of things.
"I think the CIO job is heading towards a chief operations officer role. This would split into two pieces: first the delivery of IT services and second, the forward-planning of capabilities that enable the business to connect. The CEO is clearly an outward-facing role. Conversely, the CIO must focus inwards; the remit is to get the internal piece working."
Integration of a business kind
At Domestic & General, a specialist provider of warranties for white goods, the CIO role is two-fold: keeping the lights on and introducing services that support business manufacturing partners, says CIO Peter Edwards.
"A lot of innovation work is about enabling our European manufacturing partners through the provision of digital services on our extranet. These centre on the provision of warranties that customers can take out for white goods," explains Edwards. D&G recently upgraded to Kana customer relationship management to provide a web-based set of technologies.
How does the day job work?
Peter Edwards, CIO, Domestic & General
"It's not quite as clean-cut as divvying time between different facets of the role because they all need to be interconnected.
"So, for example, I work on the infrastructure in order to provide services that are reliable and of value and this in turn has implications for integration. As a result of this we examine the kinds of technologies that we use. Are we using virtualisation in an optimal way and making appropriate use of storage?
"A growing part of my job is another type of integration, that of being a strategic partner to the business. There's the technical integration piece but also where we integrate with the business to serve their purpose."