Chily Fachler is the CIO of Green Man Gaming, a global eCommerce games retailer, and was recently involved in the company's planning and implementation of disruptive cryptocurrency Bitcoin as a payment option. Chily has previously written for CIO UK on multichannel retail and digital transformation, and here looks at the evolution of the CIO role:
The Soul of the CIO
Look into the professional soul of a CIO and you are likely to find a human being incapable of settling for the way things are. We are by nature transformative. Whether we came through the ranks of developers and architects, or operations and commercial roles, we tend to share one thing in common. We always feel that there is a better and more efficient way of doing things, and because so much of the time that involves technology and information, this is the toolkit that we choose to plow our trade.
Everybody is transforming
Today the opportunities to harness this essential skillset have increased on an exponential scale. There is hardly a company left on this earth that has not recognised the need to better harness technology and information to improve their core proposition. Many companies who fail to do so are being left behind, while companies who have the courage to transform themselves, often find themselves operating at a distinct advantage, allowing them to steal market share and grow bigger, better and more efficient. But we know that courage is not enough, it is execution, more that anything else that determines successful transformation, and it is here where a great CIO can come into their own.
The word is used all the time, but for the CIO what does it normally entail? It has always been the case that CIOs, CTOs and IT Directors have been tasked with utilising technology to improve businesses. This would include systems, processes and access to information and analytics. The rapid pace of new and emerging technologies however has meant that a mere improvement is no longer enough. Businesses are now expecting to completely change the way they do things. Industries have been disrupted in a way never seen before. Customers of all ages and profiles are interacting via digital channels and increasingly on devices and technologies that didn't seem possible let along probable a few short years ago. And the ability to interrogate and harness mass data sets to gain insight on our customers and their behaviours is unprecedented. In short the onset of Online, Digital and Big Data has had the effect of laying down the gauntlet to businesses, who are in turn looking to the CIO to lead them into the new world.
The transformation of the CIO role
By definition if the world is evolving, companies are changing, and businesses are transforming, the role of the CIO cannot stagnate. While we have already acknowledged that the CIO is inherently built to transform, it is not necessarily what they have been doing in the past, and it requires a shift of mindset. While it may have been acceptable in the past to simply build an IT strategy that follows the business strategy, or even to work in partnership with the rest of the business, now more than ever before CIOs are being asked to lead. Nobody is better placed than the CIO, but it is not something CIOs are necessarily used to doing, or are comfortable with. This is not about giving the business what they want when they want it, this is about helping them determine what they need, and executing it as best they can.
Outrunning the business
The transformation role is not one that places CIOs in the same place for years. While businesses are able to reinvent themselves and continue transforming, the great ones always do, major transformations usually have a time line, and put bluntly, some form of end date. It may be this fact that results in the CIO having the shortest tenures when compared to other members of the C-suite, as Ian Cox wrote last week. Perhaps CIOs outrun the businesses that they work for by always having more of an appetite to keep transforming than the business itself.
It is not always the same person
Not all CIOs are the same. Some are more capable than others of leading and initiating change, and some are more willing than others to see change through, or ensure the on-going sustainability and scalability of the changes that have been put in place. CEOs are picking up on this and so are Private Equity investors. Businesses are recognising that it is not always the same person who can do all three. As a result companies are reaching out for different leadership at different stages in the cycle, opening up opportunities for CIOs as transformational managers, implementation experts or even consolidation specialists once the dust has settled.
Interim, permanent, corporate, public sector and Private Equity
The new opportunities has meant that there is no longer a thick dividing line between permanent CIOs and interims, or indeed between CIOs who work in corporate, public sector or PE-backed businesses. The same CIO may be equally comfortable and at home on an interim assignment for a PE-backed digital retailer, as they would doing an interim transformation for a government department, or in a permanent role transforming a large financial institution. From a career move point of view, and depending on their general reference or specific life situation, the transformational CIO could choose to use their skills to further enhance their corporate career, reap the financial benefits and excitement of an interim transformation role, or join a VC- or PE-backed business and gain the opportunity for wealth creation.
Leave it better than you found it
Regardless of the role, the business or the opportunity, the challenge is to make the transformation count. Once complete the business needs to find itself more efficient, more effective, better able to understand and communicate with its customers and ultimately more successful. Aside from the obvious advantages to the business and to the CIOs career, it is also food for the professional soul; soul incapable of settling for the way things are.