Chief influencing officer

As we head deeper into 2013, the signs that this year will be unforgiving for napping CIOs are there, lit up in glaring neon. The second week of January saw the collapse of three retail empires - HMV, Blockbuster and Jessops - a demise that many critics attribute to myopia around the business impacts of the internet.

"In the movie rental business, you needed your CIO to give advance warning that the internet and digital downloads are fundamentally changing the sector's business model,"? says Ryan Rubin, director of risk consultancy Protiviti.

"It can be a question of standing up to the board and saying: 'Unless we do something about movie-on-demand and downloads, we're going out of business'."

However Rubin also knows how hard it can be for the CIO to have that conversation and that on some boards it's impossible. "Often the CIO is just not in that position; they are perceived to be there simply to support the decisions of the board," he says. The need to keep a business lookout while keeping the lights on can easily be misjudged and any IT systems failure can result in an inward-looking CIO who fails to see the change coming.

It's a conversation that has been going on from some time and the volume has just been turned up. At the IT Directors Forum last autumn, the keynote speech by Clive White, chief operating officer of consultancy Leading Resolutions, dissected the role of CIO into different permutations of the acronym: chief integration officer, chief infrastructure officer and chief innovation officer, suggesting that the final destination for forward-thinking incumbents is chief influencing officer.

"Technology is both creating and is expected to have solutions to social and political changes on a global scale. The CIO will be expected to have answers, lead many of these emerging discussions, pre-empt and have mitigations available for significant events," White explains. But for the moment, he says, 'CIO' could easily be short for chief insecurity officer as the IT chief is pulled in seemingly opposing directions.

The need for a fresh focus on innovation is certainly a view promoted by Forrester Research. The analyst house calculates that a typical CIO spends roughly 60% of their time managing applications and infrastructure. This could drop to 25% and, in time, reckons Chip Gliedman, vice president of Forrester, "Enlightened CIOs will triple the amount of time and effort currently spent acting as their organisation's 'chief innovation officer'."

Gliedman urges CIOs to push more operational tasks to trusted associates, freeing themselves up to devote more time to business value creation. The time spent working as the chief innovation officer will be more as coordinator and facilitator - driving business value through the greater use and integration of technology - than as operations and control.

Leading Resolutions' White believes another scenario could be that the CIO role splits into two: incumbents who opt for a job that focuses on the 'tin and wire' elements will end up on the supplier side of the fence. Those who are keen on - and more capable at - the business end of things will have to start sharpening their influencing skills and building stronger alliances across the boardroom, specifically with the chief marketing officer (CMO).

The CMO will become an increasingly important partner for the CIO as social media becomes the de facto tool for retaining and communicating with customers. Social media as part of the IT infrastructure is a trend that will make the performance of the CIO more transparent across the entire organisation, warns White. "It will also make the performance visible to and judged by the customer directly," he says.

To break free from the IT 'glass house' and maintain a seat and influence at the top table, the CIO will have to contribute on a much wider scale within and outside of their business. "They will have to master new non-IT skills and operate not just outside of the 'glass box' but way beyond it," says White.

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That time may not be so far away but many CIOs have yet to decide where their future lies, warns White.

"When I posed the question to delegates, 'What side of the line are you sitting now, innovation or tin and wire?' there was just an uncomfortable silence."

We met three CIOs who have already moved to the innovation side of the line, and asked them how they operate in their day-to-day roles.

Chief innovation officer in CIO's clothing

Two years ago The Aintree University Hospital (AUH) NHS Foundation Trust took the paper out of clinicians' work, improving patient care and enabling the hospital to sell services to the wider community in the process. Ward Priestman, director of informatics, proposed and implemented the strategy.

Ward Priestman, director of informatics, Aintree University Hospital NHS Trust

"The CEO was driving through change; he'd been in the role for six years and he wanted us to be able to offer more freedom and choice to patients," explains Priestman. Specifically, the trust was looking to grow the business outside the hospital and to explore services such as selling community and diagnostic services.

"In order to expand services we had to be able to access information and to have a nimbleness that others don't possess," says Priestman. AUH's status as a foundation trust enabled Priestman to be more commercially minded, and to successfully sell the benefits of a radical, forms-recognition approach to the mammoth digital scanning project.

For this public sector player, innovation and not austerity with its focus on cost savings, was the chief driver. "The project coincided with the austerity era but was not the driver for it," explains Priestman. "Once implemented, however, cost savings flowed out of it," he says.

When Priestman started in the job three years ago, the AUH was poised to spend £15 million on a brand new paper medical records library. Now instead it has a state-of-the-art endoscopy suite. Going paperless has saved 30% of floor space resulting in a £13.5 million estate benefit, while the £1.5 million capital outlay of the project of was recouped in year one.

Professor Mike Pearson, consultant physician, praises the thoroughness of the new system. "Some trusts have just scanned the whole patient record, which is useless as doctors are presented with thousands of PDF pages and accessing information is almost impossible. The innovative indexing developed for our solution means we can find many results as quickly, or faster, than using paper," he says.