The IT department has undergone profound change since its inception. Everything, from the platforms to the tools-of the trade and the skillsets required to do the job, has changed. This is largely due to IT’s integration to all aspects of an organisation as well as the influence of changing technologies such as social, mobile, cloud computing and big data analytics.
In turn, the role of CIO, overseeing these changes, is continually evolving to meet the new world of IT. With these profound changes, the CIO has the opportunity to move from a traditional technology role to become more involved in business strategy.
The changing role of IT
Historically, IT teams have been considered a back-end operation providing products and services such as infrastructure, security and maintenance to internal users. Now a significant portion of IT budgets is devoted to cloud-based applications and IT is required to provide conventional technical services consistently, as well as innovate in a faster, more agile manner to stay competitive. Today the IT department is operating on the front lines of business. In many organisations, customers have become an IT priority.
Running IT as a business
As a driver of organisational change and innovation, the IT team must operate as a strong, capable, multi-disciplinary business within the larger company. Most IT employees however, have technical backgrounds with little business skills training or experience. IT leaders often struggle to provide a basic level of business, communication, business analysis, project management, management, leadership and other “non-technical” skills to their teams.
This is what makes collaboration with other business units, as well as strategic hiring and training practices, of the utmost importance. CIOs need to put time into establishing personal relationships with business peers to take a truly multi-disciplinary approach to running the IT business while they grow talent within their own units. CIOs must break down any existing barriers between themselves and the rest of the C-suite to show marketing, finance, human resources, and the other senior executives that IT plays a role in enhancing other business units.
Digitalisation relies on adequate skills
In the past, it was common practice to outsource large portions of IT services but in order to address the new expectations placed upon IT, organisations are now looking to bring more workers and skills back in-house. However, as companies look to fill more in-house IT openings, they are faced with a skills shortage. CIOs looking to transform their business cannot get far without the right talent—but demand for certain skills often greatly exceeds supply.
To combat skill gaps and staffing shortages, forward thinking CIOs are turning to intelligent e-learning solutions that provide IT teams with engaging, multi-modal content and tailored learning paths. This approach can meet each individual’s learning requirements and encourages people to fit learning into their working day when and where they can.
Becoming a boardroom influencer
Today’s CIO has a central role in creating corporate strategy. With IT established as a integral part of business, the CIO has the potential to become an influencer within the boardroom, using the rise of digital technology as an opportunity to drive digital strategy. More than just an IT engineer, the CIO and top IT management can become business decision-makers.
A savvy CIO boardroom influencer will boost cross-departmental collaboration. Not just to increase efficiency or cut costs but to create true partnerships at the top where they can demonstrate leadership.
For example, the CIO can engage digitally-savvy customers, by teaming up with the CMO. Using data to get to know customers better, identifying behaviour patterns and predicting trends, analysing profitability of products and services so they can be flexible in offerings. The entire organisation faces the digital disruption challenge so it’s up the CIO to provide leadership, decision-making, performance improvement and innovation.
It’s also crucial to ensure IT teams and employees have access to adequate training resources that can support their professional development and equip them for digital transformation.
Ultimately, as digitalisation progresses, the CIO has the opportunity to move away from their traditional IT-focused role, to become a business leader.
By honing their leadership skills, being open to collaboration with other department heads and ensuring their IT teams are adequately skilled for digital transformation, CIOs can firmly position themselves as boardroom influencers.
Rosie Cairnes is regional director of Skillsoft ANZ
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