CIOs are facing many challenges and opportunities as a result of the digital revolution that is sweeping across every industry. Digital is changing the nature of business; it has made markets more dynamic, put the customer in charge and placed data at the heart of the organisation. To succeed in digital markets an organisation needs strong leadership and a clear vision. It also needs to be agile, willing to self-disrupt and prepared to take some risks.
Digital has also created a new role for technology; instead of just being used to support the back-office, technology is now being used at the forefront of the customer experience and interaction, to drive innovation in products and services, enable new business models and underpin business-wide transformation. Technology is fundamental to digital.
And with this new role for technology comes the opportunity for CIOs to reshape their own role and that of the IT function. As the organisation's technology leader, the CIO is perfectly placed to play a leading role in shaping and leading digital initiatives across the business. To make the most of this opportunity, however, requires change; it needs a different type of CIO and a new type of IT function – a subject I have often written about over the last few years and one that formed the central theme of my book, Disrupt IT.
The annual CIO Summit was held recently and once again it provided an opportunity to hear some of the leading CIOs in the UK share their experience, insights and advice. And it was clear from the day's presentations that these CIOs have recognised the need for change and have positioned themselves and their departments to capitalise on the opportunities that come from digital.
The following five themes stood out from the day's presentations:
1. Understand the customer: The focus for this year's summit was the customer-centric CIO so it is not surprising that customers featured heavily throughout the day. Step one of being customer-centric is getting to know and understand the organisation's customers. Many of the CIOs that spoke at the event demonstrated detailed knowledge about their organisation's customers – knowledge that could only be gained by regularly spending time with them, talking to them about their needs and observing how they use the organisation's products and services.
2. IT is part of the business: This is something I have been hearing a lot from CIOs recently and it was raised again at the Summit. IT professionals have a habit of referring to IT and the business, as if they are two separate entities. IT is and always has been part of the business. This has never been truer than in the digital age where technology is permeating every part of the organisation and extending out to customers, partners and suppliers. The CIO and the IT function needs to start talking, acting and operating as an integral part of the business if they want to play a leading role in its digital future.
3. The end of the requirements document: The days of producing long, detailed requirements documents that attempt to capture every feature required from a new solution are over. Digital markets move quickly and new products, services and solutions need to be launched more quickly as a result. And, as we have known for many years, users tend to only really know what they want once they see an initial solution. So prototypes, pilots and even mock-ups of solutions are increasingly being used by the top CIOs to establish requirements, test ideas and deliver value to customers at the speed of digital.
4. Colocation and collaboration: Establishing requirements through experience, and developing prototypes and working solutions through iterative processes can only really happen when people work together, as a single team with a shared goal. IT teams that can work collaboratively with other functions perform better than those still working in the them and us style of the past. And many of the top CIOs are taking this a step further by co-locating their resources with other functions. Embedding IT resources ensures they are exposed to the challenges, issues and opportunities of the relevant function(s) on a daily basis. Embedded resources can also adapt their ways of working to suit the style and preferences of the function they support making collaboration easier as a result.
5. The CIO as a storyteller: An increasing amount of the CIO's time is spent working with stakeholders, selling and leading transformation and helping to set the overall direction for their organisation. The best CIOs know how to engage their audience, they know how to adjust their approach and language to suit that audience, and they know how to land their key messages. Creating and communicating a context for change that resonates and motivates all stakeholders is becoming a key skill of the modern CIO. To be a successful CIO you need to be a storyteller and in the words of xMatters CMO Randi Barshach speaking in one of the event's Masterclasses, "if you are not, you need to partner with one".
So the top CIOs are changing and are playing a key role in their organisation's digital journey as a result. However, based on some of the presentations and also on a number of conversations I had with CIOs during the networking sessions at the Summit, the same cannot be said for the vendor community, which leads me to a sixth theme:
6. Big vendors are struggling: Whether it's the big systems integrators or the large ERP providers, a number of CIOs are experiencing challenges working with the traditional IT vendors. Working practices, licensing models and even culture were all cited as being obstacles to CIOs getting the service they need from the big suppliers. In his Summit presentation Glyn Knaresborough of CSC advised CIOs to "choose partners that can support your aspirations". That may mean looking beyond the traditional players to vendors that do understand digital and can work in ways that are more suited to the digital age.
As the role of technology within business changes, so must the role of the organisation's technology leader. Nick Burton of Belron gave a presentation that I described on Twitter as "business focused, customer centric with a hint of technology". That is exactly how a CIO in the digital age should be. The top CIOs clearly recognise this and are changing how they and their teams work with the rest of the business to meet this new brief.