IT is now understood by most leaders to be central to their business. However, a question mark seems to be hanging over whether the IT profession and the CIO will survive as the custodians of the technological change they've created. Unless the CIO and the IT department steps into centre stage, there is a real threat that organisations will go round them.
This may seem a stark warning, but it's not all doom and gloom. The message is getting through; we only have to look at the list of top CIOs to see how IT is now embedded and driving change in so many sectors, not just IT businesses. LV=, Marks and Spencers, Network Rail, Sainsburys, DVLA and HMRC are just some examples of organisations that have transformed their businesses with technology. Their CIOs are among some of the most recognised in the profession.
However, we can't rest on our laurels. Success draws attention and with that comes responsibility. This is why we're continuing to champion CIOs and their teams to stand up and take centre stage in their organisation. CIOs and teams of the future have to be trusted that they're going to transform the business. With the apparent demise of the IT budget and rise of the project budget, the IT team of the future needs to lead from the front. The profession is no longer about being the people who keep the lights on, CIOs and their teams need to be ahead of the curve, leading business transformation.
Today's CIO should aspire to be on their organisation's board. This is the difference between delivering someone else's strategy, and driving the strategy, clearly demonstrating how technology can be used innovatively to interpret and deliver business needs. The responsibility for boards is to recognise that their CIOs are the hub of innovation who can work across the business to drive change and enable better business.
One of the first things CIOs and their teams need to do is shrug off the image of being fixers of technology. Many organisations are unaware of what they need next, what the next disruptive technology is or how it will apply to their business to generate increased profits. This is where the CIO and the team can demonstrate their value. To do this, CIOs and their teams need to have a thorough understanding of the business. They need to understand the business's objectives and customers, (not employees' requirements for their desktops), what the customers who use the business's services or products actually want. With this as the basis, the team, led by the CIO, can demonstrate to the board how the next wave of disruptive technology can be implemented to help drive growth and improve the customer experience.
However, this takes more than simple technical know-how. It needs the CIO and the IT team to be seen as a trusted unit that speaks the same language as the rest of the business - this means a team equipped with the so called "soft" skills. This is no trivial exercise as the skills armoury includes emotional intelligence, political awareness, service, people leadership, marketing, visioning and business awareness.
However, communication is the skill most in demand. If a CIO is going to sit on the board they need to be able to speak that language and communicate very clearly how technology-enabled change is going to deliver on business objectives and needs. This goes for the team too. CIOs need to not only ensure that standards and development programmes are in place for the skills currently needed, but also those that will be needed to lead business transformation through technology. On top of this, the team also need the all-important soft skills - the same skills that all leaders need.
Where will all this lead? We anticipate that in the future, technology leadership will become an essential and common path to the board allowing UK plc to continue to be equipped to compete successfully.