6 top qualities IT leaders will need in 2017

Deloitte survey finds CIOs are not satisfied with merely keeping things running smoothly -- they need to know if it's delivering what end customers actually want.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

The top priority of chief executive officers in the year ahead is to get out of the office/data center more often and get to know customers better. It's not enough that systems are operating smoothly -- they have to be responding to customer requirements as well.

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That's the word from Deloitte's latest global survey of 1,217 IT leaders, which identified what CIOs saw as the key elements for success in the year ahead. The survey uncovered a shift in business priorities from "business performance" to "customers," with 57 percent of CIOs choosing customers as their top priority, compared to 45 percent in last year's survey. Customers also remained the top priority across eight of the 10 industries represented in the survey.

Most IT organizations don't appear ready to serve the end customer as well as the CIOs want, however. Only 45 percent of CIOs say their IT departments are actually involved in delivering customer experience through IT capabilities. Furthermore, only 28 percent feel their IT organizations are "below average" in their digital skill sets.

Major gaps exist between what the business expects, and IT is capable of delivering, the report's authors, Stephen Mercer and Mark Lillie, also explain. A majority of CIOs, 57 percent, said their businesses expect them "to assist in business innovation and developing new products and services," but a similar number also lament that innovation and disruption priorities currently do not exist or are still in the process of being built.

So the ability to get to know the customer is one of the top qualities CIOs and IT leaders need to get ahead in the year ahead. Here are five additional qualities IT leaders say they will need to succeed in what's sure to be another disruptive and paradigm-shattering year:

Ability to strategically align with the business in a profound way. "Overwhelmingly, the top IT capability selected by respondents wast he capacity to align IT activities to business strategy and performance goals," Mercer and Lillie report. "About three out of four CIOs said this capability was essential to their success." They add that this is about being proactive to business challenges -- "not just responding to business requests." At the same time, the survey finds, only five percent of CIOs feel their IT departments are ready to assume this role.

Ability to consistently and reliably deliver results. More than one-half of CIOs, 55 percent, cite "execution" as a top capability. This is more than just delivering software, or course -- it means delivering high-quality, secure solutions within budget constraints. The challenge is right now, only 21 percent of CIOs "acknowledge they actually are in the process of building core IT capabilities around project execution and solution delivery."

Ability to deliver on vision and strategy. While nearly 50 percent of CIOs said "developing a vision and strategy" was an essential capability, one out of three reported it as an IT capability that does not currently exist within their organization," the Deloitte authors report. IT needs to be able to see past the daily firefighting and be able to lay out a vision for advancing their businesses into the digital economy -- before their competitors do.

Ability to foster innovation and disruption. At least 47 percent of CIOs say "fostering innovation and disruption"is a capability essential to their success. However, the survey report adds, 43 percent also acknowledged that "this essential capability either currently does not exist or is still in the process of being built within their IT organizations." This is a critical gap, as in this era of tech-driven disruption from all sides, IT leaders need to be taking the lead with innovation.

Ability to nurture talent and culture. The sixth-ranked important quality, cited by 45 percent of CIOs, is the ability to identify, engage, motivate, and acquire the talent who can make their digital dreams happen. In essence, a tech-driven innovation culture, as found in the startup community, is the ideal. Mercer and Lillie say in the course of their interviews for the study, "many CIOs talked about their talent challenges: years of reinforcing mediocrity as the expectation, a hesitation to make the tough calls, the inability to secure the right talent to build the right capabilities--all which may lead to a suboptimal IT culture. Many CIOs we spoke to are actively looking for ways to shape and sometimes even transform their cultures because they realize that to keep high performers,their culture has to support, encourage,and engage those professionals."

The Deloitte authors also provide some advice for amping up these capabilities:

  • Communicate with crystal clarity -- and simplicity. "Set clear and unambiguous goals for delivering business value and clearly articulate how to achieve those goals," Mercer and Lillie advise. "The vision does not have to be complex or expansive; it can be a simple expression of intent that serves as a rallying cry for the IT organisation and a clear articulation of IT's role."
  • Build relationships, make connections. "To become and remain influential, CIOs should develop and maintain relationships with key stakeholders. They need to build alliances and partnerships inside and outside of the C-suite, their company, and their industry."
  • Invest in talent. "CIOs can't build their legacies alone. The IT capabilities, teams, and talent that CIOs develop play a fundamental role in their legacies."
  • Rethink digital. "CIOs should collaborate with other leaders to define 'digital' based on their business context."
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