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Ivanti expert: Why today’s CIO will be tomorrow’s CEO

Ivanti expert: Why today’s CIO will be tomorrow’s CEO

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CIOs are earning the trust of CEOs and board members by combining their technical expertise with business awareness and strategic thinking. Phil Richards, CSO at Ivanti, argues that CIOs have established themselves as trusted advisors to CEOs and are helping to shape their organisations’ growth strategies.

Digital transformation is no longer optional – it’s an absolute necessity for companies who want to implement a sound business strategy that promotes innovation and growth.

Consequently, organisations globally are rushing to revise their old-school processes and IT legacy systems and implement modern technologies to support success. However, completing this transition is no easy task.

According to research, 57% of global executives admitted that they struggle to keep up with the pace of digital change. This is because, aside from being an incredibly lengthy process which affects all aspects of a company, it also requires highly skilled employees with technical experience and an in-depth understanding of the impact that technology has on driving successful business outcomes.

Historically, IT was seen as a service function which existed to facilitate other departments’ needs and priorities; businesses would think of IT as a fix-and-replace tool, merely used to get by and simplify everyday tasks.

However, times have changed, and with technology firmly in the driver’s seat of business evolution, IT is now recognised as a core component within an organisation that has the capability to drastically improve the way employees do their jobs, bring about customer satisfaction and provide significant competitive edge.

This change in mindset is leading companies to turn to IT to not just solve system errors and implement operational improvements, but to leverage technology in ways that support new corporate initiatives and help generate new revenue streams – and at the heart of such transformation lies the CIO.

The need for better IT

According to IDG, 88% of today’s CIOs are more involved in business transformation than any other individual at their level within their company. Once mainly reporting to the CFO and boasting a strictly technical background, the CIO’s role is becoming more influential as technology is placed at the heart of business strategy and many organisations have changed the CIO’s immediate report from the traditional CFO to the CEO to ensure that there can be an open dialogue and direct visibility.

In fact, so strategic has the role of the CIO now become, that many well-known innovative businesses have already appointed previous CIOs as CEOs including NHS Digital, Tesco, Reuters and BT Openreach, and according to technology officers surveyed a few years ago by Korn/Ferry, 51% aspire to be CEOs at some point in their careers.

The need for a sharpened focus on IT, and the subsequent rise of the CIO, are significantly linked to the ‘instant gratification world’. Organisations worldwide, across all industries are getting to grips with the fact that today’s consumers are more demanding than ever.

Tech pioneers such as Amazon may be to blame for this phenomenon, offering customers such immediacy to the point that if, for example, a retailer can’t manage same-day delivery, it is promptly disregarded for a competitor. Customers want speed and simplicity so businesses must enhance their digital capabilities to deliver on these expectations.

That’s where the CIO comes in – their job is to ensure the business is equipped with the right technology and ensure that this is constantly updated so as to keep up with ever-evolving customer demands. In order for this to be possible, CIOs and their teams must increase emphasis on the customer experience and build IT around user needs.

In order to develop an environment which grows future leaders, CIOs need to reshape the way that an organisation ‘does IT’. Delivering outstanding service for internal and external stakeholders is impossible without efficient processes and streamlined operations.

Under the direction of the CIO, organisations must implement the right tools in order to enhance operational efficiency and improve IT workflows. While there is certainly a need for innovative solutions to business problems, these simply cannot be implemented without agile IT systems and culture.

If a CIO focuses exclusively on ideating and leaves the ‘IT plumbing’ to others, they risk taking the express elevator to the top floor of the Ivory Tower, where grandiose ideas are out of touch with business reality and cannot be realised.

What makes this transformation challenging is the fact that IT is currently scattered across siloed departments and lacks uniformity, thereby hindering innovation. The right approach to IT is a unified one – this would enable business agility, facilitate the introduction of new emerging technologies and, not to be overlooked, allow the upskilling of the workforce.

CIOs must also create an environment of consistent learning and development, by hiring new talented individuals and also training existing staff. New job titles and a compensation structure need to be put into place to encourage professionals to enable business efficiency.

Furthermore, establishing revenue targets will turbo-boost teams and prepare them for future leadership roles. After all, Digital Transformation is not a one-off project – it should be a mindset, a continuous effort to constantly keep up with the evolution of technology and consumer trends.

All aboard

As businesses and their priorities change, so should boards of directors. With technology playing such a crucial role in driving business growth, it seems obvious that board members should have a thorough understanding of it.

Surprisingly, boards still lack leaders with technical backgrounds and sufficient knowledge to ensure the organisation continues to effectively evolve from a digital standpoint. That’s why board directors who are growing more and more interested in the role of technology, are turning to CIOs to help analyse latest trends and recommend key developments in this field. In fact, IDG found that 78% of CIOs are communicating with the board of directors more than ever before.

While it’s certainly positive for CIOs to have an open dialogue with CEOs and board members, not having individuals who understand the imminent need of digital innovation, and the intricacies of what is needed to achieve it, sitting on the actual board is a huge disadvantage.

CIOs have the perfect technical skills and knowledge to complement  the current management, financial and operational expertise of  CEOs, CFOs and COOs, and lead companies into the digital future. Additionally, they also have a thorough understanding of the cybersecurity threatscape, one of the most common issues currently plaguing businesses.

While having a CIO on the board will positively transform a business, CIOs themselves can also benefit from such an opportunity – they can use the experience as a learning curve, refine their ability to step away from day-to-day technical aspects and look at the bigger business picture.

A new CIO

It’s undeniable, then, that CIOs are undergoing an interesting transformation. In light of this newly gained authority and the widespread acknowledgment of the expertise a CIO can provide, research has revealed that 62% of CIOs are now members of executive committees, compared with only 38% in 2005; and over 75% of CIOs attended a board meeting in the last 12 months, proving that they are trusted advisors to CEOs and are shaping their organisations’ growth strategies.

However, while many businesses have gone a long way to shift the mindset regarding a CIO’s position and authority, more needs to be done within the industry for a successful Digital Transformation to take place.

IT is surrounded by a number of out-dated stereotypes that do not accurately reflect the current industry. CIOs must consistently strive to redevelop and expand their team to make it into an environment that fosters leaders and encourages new forms of IT professionals.

CIOs must also continue to earn the trust of CEOs and board members by combining their technical expertise with business awareness and strategic thinking; as well as constantly communicating their progress and achievements to the rest of the organisation to cement the value that the CIO brings to the team, as well as reinforcing the CIO’s suitability to improve and grow the company.

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