UK CIOs are investing more in SMART technologies like robotics and the Internet of Things than their international colleagues and are heavily involved in the digitisation of their organisations, but they are still spending significant amounts of time "managing IT" at the expense of working with other senior key business stakeholders.

That is according to the UK and Ireland breakdown of Gartner's 2015 CIO Agenda, which found that business and technology leaders in the UK were keen to develop their "visionary leadership" style, are seeing a year-on-year IT budget increase of 1.4% in 2015, and represent the most progressive worldwide region for adopting a cloud-first, mobile-first mindset.

While studies around Gartner's classic SMAC stack (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) are not in short supply, the 2015 edition of Gartner's global study looked at CIO attitudes to emerging technologies such as 3D printing, robotics, augmented humans, and the Internet of Things.

Internet of Things

The study found that in the UK "a significant minority of CIOs have moved beyond monitoring the trends to actively investing and deploying solutions", according to analysts Lee Weldon and Duncan Chapman.

"This is especially true for robotics (9%) and the Internet of Things (10%)," the report said. Manufacturing is leading the way with 22% already investing in 3D printing, robotics and IoT, with the public sector also showing a progressive mindset and 8% of government agencies investing in emerging technology.

Indeed, Camden Council CIO John Jackson said at the end of 2014 that emerging technologies like IoT will help the public sector saves millions of pounds in times of austerity, comments echoing those of Leeds City Council CIO Dylan Roberts believes smart cities will allow local government to do more for less.

CIO and digital leadership

The Gartner study also revealed UK CIOs are making digitisation a high priority, and significantly more so than their international peers, providing the CIO with a huge opportunity to play in leading digitisation of the business.

However, while some 42% of CIOs believe it is their role to take on the responsibility of digital leadership - more than Business Unit Leaders (18%) and the CMO (16%) - CEOs see things differently.

While chief executives from a 2014 survey expected the CIO as an individual to be the most senior digital leader, CEOs see the role of CIO as a first among equals across the executive leadership team.

Gartner said: "CIOs have often been the lone leaders of technology at the senior-most level.

"However, it shows that many CIOs haven't fully grasped the changing reality that all business leaders will inevitably need to understand, and engage in, the leadership of information and digital technology."

Managing IT

One of the findings of the study was that, relative to the rest of the world, CIOs in the UK are spending more time with their department managing IT than they are with other senior business stakeholders influencing strategic decision-making.

This UK figure of 44% running the IT department was more than the 40% global figure, which the authors suggested was driven by the need to "focus on renovating the core of IT, updating legacy systems and processes to ensure a foundation is in place to meet new expectations driven by digitalization [sic]".

Gartner warned that the more time CIOs spend addressing internal issues, the more they risk missing strategic business discussions.

The authors offered advice on the back of the, probably correct, hypothesis that time is becoming an ever scarcer commodity for CIOs in 2015. Offering a similar argument to that of CIO UK columnist Ian Cox in his best-selling book Disrupt IT, the analysts suggested the appointment of a deputy responsible for the day-to-day running of the IT organisation, freeing up the CIO to be the leader of information and technology across the enterprise, and focus on digital leadership, and the positioning and strategic use of technology.

Visionary leadership style

Respondents to the survey noted that in the face of new opportunities, disruptive threats and an increasingly digital business world they would need to change their leadership style in the next three years. This manifested itself with 75% saying they needed a big decrease in their "commanding" leadership style.

The areas UK CIOs said they needed to improve on most were their "visionary" leadership (59%) and coaching (20%). The Gartner authors described this shift as being able to "articulate a digital vision that is compelling and engaging, while becoming more comfortable with leading through influence rather than control".

Indeed, this was one of the common themes which emerged during the 2014 CIO Summit where leading CIOs Anna Barsby, Chris Hewertson and Graham Benson - from Halfords, GHL and M&M Direct respectively - all gave inspiring keynote presentations about their roles about nurturing and empowering their teams to help the organisation innovate from within.

Cloud and mobile

Gartner's study also revealed CIOs in the UK and Ireland as being the most progressive in the world when it came to adopting a cloud-first, mobile first strategy.

Authors Weldon and Chapman said that 21% of CIOs consider public cloud SaaS products as their first option - higher than a global figure of 16% - with similar attitudes towards cloud infrastructure.

"This reflects a more mature and established market for cloud service providers in the UK and Ireland compared with many other countries, as well as a traditional reputation for innovation and aggressive uptake of newer technologies," the authors said.

Similar attitudes were found towards mobile. "This aggressive focus on mobility is considered an obvious path to take," Gartner added, with both public and private sector organisations recognising mobile technologies as a key enabler of customer value, business model innovation and cost efficiency.