The CIO’s journey | Part 1

CIOs have the power to shape the future of a business. If only they’d recognise it.

Consider this: I’m old enough to remember when business IT was optional, when you really could have a fully functional business without it. I’m also old enough to remember recessions when IT was competing with Marketing as the first cost to be cut. Today, if you hear a business is trying to ride out a recession by cutting IT, it’s clear they’ve more problems than just the downturn!

For CIOs, this is a massive shift. We’ve moved from being a lowly extra in the back row of the chorus to front-of-stage, in the limelight! That’s quite a change, and we should be proud of it. The problem is that too often we’re just not ready to see ourselves that way. And neither is the CEO.

I think it’s because we CIOs are not used to thinking of ourselves as wielding the power to shape the trajectory of an entire organisation. But think about it:

  • CIOs are the most adept senior leader at managing and delivering effective innovation and change.
  • We have strong strategic instincts. Our insights and investments in tech can quite literally be the cause of hockey-stick growth.
  • We curate the company’s data and understand the business advantage it brings.
  • We drive the technology that underpins all departmental growth. Business improvement is wholly dependent on us and our team.
  • It’s rare to see such meteoric changes occurring in the exec team. Going from the newbie with shiny toys to the critical lynchpin may well make others on the Board uncomfortable, and we need to be ready for that.

So how do we adjust? And how do we help other executives adjust?

Here’s what I think:

✅ Stop being a service function. We used to be lumped in with other service departments, and many of us continue to measure ourselves in those terms. So it’s not surprising that IT is often outsourced. Now we need to accept that we’ve grown up. We’re a core part of growth. Our outcomes need to be attached to the business outcomes, not a monthly statistical report.

✅ Be an innovation catalyst. Innovation is the lifeblood of sustained growth. We are best placed to understand the potential of emerging technologies that will drive innovation, disrupt the sector, and directly impact competitive advantage. Whether it’s harnessing the power of AI for predictive analytics or leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT) for process optimisation, the CIO is the right person to press for the innovation that leads to new revenue streams and improved customer experiences.

✅ Enhance customer experience. We may be unused to think of CIOs as the key, but customer experience is totally in our wheelhouse. Omnichannel—integrated interactions with any customer, anywhere, by any means—is fundamentally a tech-led customer engagement system. And tech leaders know how to deliver such a complex environment, as well as leverage data analytics to provide valuable insight into customer behaviour, preferences, and pain-points. And on top of that, we have the capability to lead the development of personalised solutions, driving customer satisfaction up, improving loyalty, and ultimately increasing revenue.

✅ Foster agility and adaptability. Market dynamics change at an unprecedented pace, and businesses need to be agile if they’re to thrive. CIOs bring competitive advantage by introducing agile methodologies, not only within the business systems, but also within business processes and customer engagement. This agility allows a business to respond to market demands and capitalise on new opportunities faster than their competitors.

✅ Enable data-driven decision-making. Data is a strategic asset, and only CIOs can be the custodian of this invaluable resource. The competitive advantage comes from creating robust data management and analytics systems that will provide actionable insights guiding critical decision-making, reducing risks, quickly identifying growth opportunities, and improving operational efficiency.

✅ Focus on security. Cyber threats are every business’s constant concern. But security can be considered a way of keeping ahead of the competition. That’s why it’s crucial to create a secure environment, ensure data security, and minimise risks through state-of-the-art cyber security systems and quality training.

✅ Make infrastructure scalable and modular. A business should never have to worry about the infrastructure getting in the way. A business gains competitive advantage when its CIO provides an environment that scales readily and accommodates expansion without disruption. That should be a given, but often it needs significant attention.

✅ Be a Digital Transformation leader. Digital transformation should be a necessity for businesses aiming to stay relevant, and a visionary CIO should lead the charge in transforming legacy processes into agile, digital-first operations. This transformation optimises efficiency, reduces costs, and accelerates time-to-market, all of which contribute to increased revenue and growth.

✅ Remember: it’s never business-as-usual. If any CIO or CTO ends up in a situation where it’s just BAU, then something’s gone horribly wrong. In fact, a lot of CIOs move on when things move to the BAU stage, which shows the CEO we’re only interested in our own capability, not the success of the business. So when it starts to feel like BAU, that’s your opportunity to become Chief Innovation Officer. It’s up to us to always be innovating and never allow BAU to cast a shadow over what the IT function, and the business, can achieve.

I doubt this is an exhaustive list, but I hope it’s enough to demonstrate that a good CIO always brings competitive advantage. Of course, if we sit in our ivory tower and let our SLAs and KPIs do the talking, we’ll never achieve our full potential. Instead, we need to embrace being visionaries—aligning technology to business objectives, driving innovation, enhancing customer experiences, and enabling data-driven decision-making.

It’s about time we get recognised for what we truly bring to an organisation—but that won’t happen unless CIOs recognise it themselves.

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The CIO's Journey, Part 2