Technology projects that make money rather than slash costs are now the priority for two-thirds of CEOs according to the 2015 Harvey Nash CIO Survey, but the IT skills shortage is getting worse and 59% of CIOs fear the tech talent gap will prevent their organisation from keeping up with the pace of change.

The results of the Harvey Nash study, this year conducted in association with KPMG after a survey of "nearly 4,000 IT executives from more than 50 countries", echo many of the themes which emerged from last month's CIO 100 of a more strategic CIO focused on business change over cost-cutting, with fewer budget constraints and many emerging as the organisation's digital leader despite the threat of disruption and the emerging role of the Chief Digital Officer.

However, Harvey Nash found little change in the diversity of its respondents. Female representation was weak, the authors of the study said, with barely 6% of female respondents having a CIO, CTO or SVP job title - unchanged from 2014 and down from the 2013 figure of 8%.

IT projects that save money were cited as a priority by 34% of CIOs, with technology projects that drive revenue the priority for the remaining 66% of CIOs, the research found. This continues a trend the Harvey Nash study has noted since 2013, with the focus of CEOs shifting increasingly away from cost saving in favour of utilising technology to drive revenue, and CIO budgets seeing an increase to support this - 44% of budgets were up in 2015.

Like the CIO 100, Harvey Nash also found a decrease in CIOs reporting to the CFO or finance director - down to 15% with 31% reporting to the CEO, 12% a COO and a quarter to another role, including global CIOs. Interestingly, the survey revealed that CIOs reporting to a CFO are more likely to work at an organisation with a CEO that focuses on projects that save money rather than make money (43% compared to just 26% of CEO reports).

Big Data skills shortage

Despite the numerous reasons for CIOs to be positive, however, the study found the growing competition for emerging technology skills to be a major concern for business technology leaders, with nearly six in 10 worried skills shortages will prevent their organisation from keeping up with the pace of technological and business change. This is a trend which started last year and appears to be accelerating, the authors noted, with only 45% of CIOs reporting a skills shortage in 2013.

The profile of skills CIOs feel their organisations need is also changing, with Big Data analytics skills leaping ahead of Project Management and previous leaders Business Analysis and Enterprise Architecture at the top of the skills shortage table.

Indeed, the study also notes that access to skills not available in their own organisations is one of the main drivers to outsourcing deals, particularly at smaller and mid-sized organisations.

University of Cambridge Director of Information Services, Martin Bellamy, took part in the study and said that the explosion of data has already had a huge impact on businesses and IT departments.

He said: "The era of Big Data has arrived and in the last five years research computing has seen a 10-fold increase in processing power and a 100-fold increase in data."

CIOs stepping up to digital

In their study of 3,691 CIOs, Harvey Nash also found evidence of the CIO assuming more control over digital and ecommerce strategy at their organisations, with marketing chiefs seeing a significant decrease in their involvement.

In 2014, Harvey Nash found many Chief Marketing Officers were leading and owning the digital agenda but the authors noted a 'boomerang effect' - with the IT estate becoming increasingly involved. The proportion of CIOs claiming exclusive ownership of digital is up eight percentage points from last year to 18%, while CIOs who 'share' the digital function is up seven percentage points.

Conversely, ownership of digital by the marketing function is down from 40% in 2014 to 24%. Some 47% responded it was a shared function, and 12% a separate function.

This figures support the qualitative and quantitative findings from the 2015 CIO 100, which painted a picture where the CDO role is yet to fully gain traction in the UK, with CIOs generally emerging as the default digital leader.

Lisa Heneghan, the UK Head of CIO Advisory at KPMG and one of the Harvey Nash CIO Survey authors, believes the CIO is in a strong position to "make digital happen" with their unique view across the whole business.

"Some commentators talk about CIOs risking being sidelined in the 'battle for digital'. But that's not the whole truth - the fact is that everyone risks being sidelined. Whether you are a CFO, CEO, CMO or CIO, digital is capable of disrupting all job roles just as much as it disrupts the businesses those jobs are part of," Heneghan said.

"But the CIO does have a unique perspective on all this. It is only the CIO who touches every part of the business. It is only the CIO who really understands the implications of system integration. And it is often only the CIO who truly has the relationships within the business, understanding of the external supplier market and depth of technological expertise required to cajole, persuade, organise and influence the disparate set of stakeholders needed to achieve the digital goal.

"CIOs are key to making digital happen."

The content CIO

Harvey Nash also noted quite high levels of CIO job fulfilment, with CIOs who sit on the executive management team apparently the most content. CIOs who report to the chief executive are marginally happier than those who report to the CFO, the authors said, and the smaller the organisation the CIOs works for, the happier they should be.

Walmart Asia VP and CIO, Fumbi Chima, surmised the two ends of the spectrum of the CIO role.

"The best part of being a CIO is having the opportunity to be at the forefront of technology advancements and influencing how a business adopts technology," she said. "In this role you also have the opportunity to work with great people who are passionate about their jobs.

"The worst part is convincing business of the value and importance of new technologies when they may be unproven, and the constant change of the industry means you cannot afford to miss a thing."

You can find out more about the 2015 Harvey Nash CIO Survey here.