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Redefining the role of the CIO

Redefining the role of the CIO

We have seen IT transition from being used reactively to fix the past to being used proactively to create the future. So why do a number of CIOs find their job becoming increasingly difficult? Raymond Yong explores the nuances of the role.

It takes a CIO to explain how technologies can uniquely contribute to a strategy. Modern CIOs must step up from simply being an organisational enabler to an organisational shaper.

Raymond Yong

IT is, in most people’s minds, synonymous with the future. Ironically, however, its use has been constrained to dealing with matters of the past. Sounds contentious? Let me explain.

IT has gained a reputation for enhancing organisational efficiency. CIOs, who have traditionally been responsible for IT infrastructure and operations, have played a large part in this. Their role was to ensure that IT could expedite and lower the costs of storing, disseminating and processing information. However, many CIOs have mainly been concerned with reaping the benefits of IT on existing business processes.

This doesn’t sound like a bad thing, until we start to look at why CIOs are finding their jobs becoming increasingly difficult.

The art of making existing businesses processes smoother and more cost efficient has been an important one. Historically, CEOs and other executives would articulate high level business strategies, processes and practices and ask the CIO to leverage IT to support these aims.

New business processes could often be introduced and firmly embedded in an organisation before IT had even begun to put its weight behind them. This is a tried and true method that has worked since the beginning of the information age.

In the present climate however, this method is no longer viable. This is because IT has reached a tipping point of sorts. Over the years, we have seen IT slowly transition from being a tool to reduce cost to a being a tool to add value. In other words, we have seen IT transition from being used reactively to fix the past to being used proactively to create the future.

With the rapid advances we have seen in IT, it is now possible for CIOs to offer solutions that CEOs and other executives simply wouldn’t think of.

IT is, in most people’s minds, synonymous with the future. Ironically, however, its use has been constrained to dealing with matters of the past.

For example, I recently worked with an organisation that was in the process of improving their level of customer service. They planned to do this by using a call centre to provide customers an avenue for enquiries and complaints.

However, an alternative solution was proposed by the CIO and myself; an online portal through which customers could do the same.

Having identified two competing solutions to their problem, the executive team did a cost/benefit analysis of call centre vs portal and decided that the portal was the best way to go. Not only was it more cost efficient, many customers would actually save time by using the portal as they would not have to wait for a CSR to answer their call.

The key takeaway here is not that we, the “IT people”, offered a better solution, but simply that we offered an alternative solution based on a sound understanding of the organisation’s needs.

In the end, even if the executive team had decided on the call centre, they were better off having considered this alternative path.

In essence, this is what the modern CIO is all about; using their IT experience to provide innovative solutions, while using business acumen to make them relevant and compelling.

This is a powerful combination, as often the value-add of a solution offered by a CIO may not be apparent to a CEO or other non-IT executives.

Read more: Glen Willoughby: Today’s CIOs wield revolutionary tools

It is important to keep in mind that part of developing good business acumen is to realise that being innovative is not always about offering solutions that are at the cutting edge of currently available technology; if that was the case the idea of using a customer portal, which has been around for years, would hardly qualify as innovation.

Instead, innovation is more about offering solutions that are new to the organisation, that offer a different value proposition to solutions that the organisation is already aware of. Good ideas are worthless if they don’t spread, and the mark of a good CIO is knowing when to proactively borrow them to enrich their own organisation.

It takes a CIO to explain how technologies can uniquely contribute to a strategy. Modern CIOs must step up from simply being an organisational enabler to an organisational shaper.

They must cultivate a sound understanding of the organisation’s needs, and use this to uniquely contribute towards its strategies. Ultimately, modern CIOs free themselves from passive reactivity and innovate to propel the organisation into the future.

Raymond Yong is an experienced management consultant and advisor to both large enterprises and modern startups on cloud strategy, customer technology and digital design. Reach him on linkedin: https://nz.linkedin.com/in/raymondynz

Raymond Yong: 'Good ideas are worthless if they don’t spread, and the mark of a good CIO is knowing when to proactively borrow them to enrich their own organisation.'
Raymond Yong: 'Good ideas are worthless if they don’t spread, and the mark of a good CIO is knowing when to proactively borrow them to enrich their own organisation.'

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