The CIO 100 is more than just a power list; it is a barometer for the environment that the CIO community operates within. As a result, each year’s list has to reflect not only the achievements of the CIOs in the last year, but also the environment of that year.

The past year was one of the most disruptive the European and UK economy has witnessed, from macro-economic worries such as the stability of the Eurozone, turmoil in former Russian states and an economic slowdown beginning to take root in Asia Pacific to name but a few.

Within industry many retailers, whether pure online or multichannel, had challenging years in 2014, while mobility and apps disrupted sectors, in particular the media, leisure and travel markets; for example, AirBNB has been about since 2008, but suddenly became headline news alongside Uber and both witnessed rapid growth rates. Despite challenges, 2014, according to accounting house EY, saw venture capital investment rates increase to the same levels as the Year 2000. For CIOs working with venture capital firms has become a key component of the role. Our national infrastructure is in a parlous state and is rapidly approaching the point of disturbing productivity and probably safety; again, CIOs are having to consider disruptions to service.

Closer to the CIO’s desk, data, whether big or not, was a buzzword bandied about by vendors throughout 2014, but this year’s CIO 100 saw business technology leaders beginning to extract real insight that delivered outcomes. Likewise innovation, both in response to the startup culture and business opportunities became real opportunities for CIOs in the past year and pioneering leaders are enabling new levels of experimentation. In turn, this innovation culture highlights the need for CIOs to challenge the major vendors who remain lacklustre in their modernisation.

The CIO challenge

The importance of a strategic CIO is still underestimated by the wider business world the CIO 100 judging panel believes .

This year’s submissions demonstrate that the CIO is still seen as a technology operations manager and not a business leader who delivers outcomes via technology. As with previous years, the top 20 of the CIO 100 are bucking that trend, but it is the opinion of the panel that too many organisations and CIOs are stuck with the view of service delivery and potentially face disruptive threats as a result.

“Organisations and CIOs must have a business strategy for the business age,” explains Jayne Nickalls. “Digital is more than just technology, it’s a cultural way of thinking, you don’t want three strategies, there has to be just one,” adds Ade McCormack.

“The BBC’s debacle with CTO John Linwood and its failure to get its head around the technology issues it shows boards are still full of people ducking the issue of technology,” argues Dr Richard Sykes, a former board level CIO. “Most Forbes 500 companies are not digital or IT ready,” adds McCormack.

“At the stage that the business strategy is being shaped you have to involve the CIO and have them integrated from the start,” Sykes advises businesses. “IT has to be the collaborator of change,” says C-level coach Catherine Stagg-Macey.

“There’s no mention of technology in the CIO job title, yet many of these entries are defining themselves as technology providers,” Jerry Fishenden observes. “The senior business people see Anna Barsby as an equal and in a business that should have gone bust she’s been a part of affecting change,” Mike Altendorf says of Halfords CIO Anna Barsby who tops this year’s list. “She’s a fantastic role model for the role with her staff saying she’s the best CIO they have worked for and she has a great leadership style,” adds Jayne Nickalls.

“Christina Scott has made herself the person people turn to enable change,” Altendorf says of the FT’s CIO.

A theme throughout the 2015 CIO 100 is that a series of mid-sized, national organisations have responded to the digital and economic challenges alluded to in the introduction.

The top 20 features major international organisations that headed last year’s CIO 100, namely Nissan Europe , Telefónica and British Gas, where CIOs are delivering major transformation in large and complex organisations. Dropping out of the top 10 is not an indication that these CIOs are any less impressive than last year, instead the 2015 CIO 100 is highlighting the achievements of organisations such as Halfords, glh and Channel 4 that with less resources are fully engaging with the digital agenda sweeping through their sectors.

“There was not enough focus on disruption in this year’s CIO 100,” says Sykes. “The quality of the submissions in some areas was not as good as previous years,” believes Altendorf on the subject of transformation.

“Take BP, the numbers are big, but it is the transformation of IT, not the business,” says former CIO Ian Cox.

Digital divide

“Digital is in your face in B2C, but it is weak to ignore the disruption in B2B,” says former CIO 100 leader Ian Cohen in his first year as a judging panel member. “We need to see more insight and less about big data,” adds McCormack.

“If you are the catalyst to a board level narrative on how their business is changing, that puts you in the top 20 of the CIO 100. Whether on or off the board, are you the person saying ‘have you seen this?’ to the board,” Cohen says of his response to the leaders in this year’s CIO 100. “Kevin Gallagher at Channel 4 is involved in changing the business and that is a great move,” adds Altendorf.

As ever, the CIO and the board was a topic of much debate during the panel sessions. “There is little correlation between reporting to the CEO and being on the board and getting things done, it’s about do you have the remit to lead change,” says new panel member and former CIO Matt Ballantine. “I don’t think the board seat genuinely matters, but having the relationship does so that you are brought in for the debates,” Cohen says. “You can often get more done from the outside if you can pull the right levers,” adds McCormack. “For example, where is digital delivered in your organisation? That is a real question, if the board put a CDO in beside you, then the CEO has made an overt decision on your remit,” argues Cohen.

“CIOs and CMOs are being drawn closer together,” says Altendorf. “CIOs that will lead are driving the adoption of data strategies,” he adds. “In some places digital seems to be all over the place and chaotic,” says digital expert Ballantine.

The past year has seen the CIO community face a skills gap, as the CIO’s department needs to focus on data insights and digital platforms for new business models. How CIOs lead their teams and develop their workforce was a major topic for debate and assessment by the panel.

“What are CIOs doing about creating roles that people want to work in?” asks Ballantine. “Keeping talent now is absolutely key,” Nickalls says. It was clear to the panel that this year’s top 10 had all focused considerable effort into developing their teams, whether through ‘work experience’ in non-IT roles, offsite team building, embracing disruptive technology strategies that really stretched staff and mentoring.

The judging panel was concerned by the conservative nature of vendor selection by the CIOs entering the 2015 CIO 100.

A driving force behind startup community that are disrupting business models is today’s easy access to powerful and reliable compute power via the cloud. Yet too many of the CIO 100 submissions showed a loyalty to old school suppliers whose models fail to deliver the necessary agility for transformation.

“There is little sign of vendor influence in this year’s CIO 100,” says Richard Sykes, who in this issue argues, “CIOs should also now be addressing the determined transformation of the vendor landscape – its business models and its commercial modus operandi (including its contractual habits).” Jerry Fishenden adds that CIOs in the public sector especially needed to “reshape” the large vendors and how they work with the government.

CIO UK and the CIO 100 judging panel believe wholeheartedly in the critical importance of being a CIO. The panel has a wealth of experience at the role and fully understands the pressures of being a business technology leader. Our aim with the CIO 100 is to both celebrate the role, but also to stimulate the community to understand the challenges it faces. The impression that CIOs are still being seen as IT service providers furthers our fear that the CIO could be eclipsed unless a greater emphasis is placed on customers, information, insight, transformation, modern vendors and agile teams. This title and its panel will continue to seek out, analyse and celebrate CIOs that achieve this necessary challenge.