Five winning strategies of successful CIOs

With so many competing demands how do tech chiefs know what to focus on and when? Here are five ways CIOs can help make the right choices.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

CIOs face a broad range of pressures from an almost limitless range of sources. In the digital age, where consumerisation and decentralisation are affecting demands for IT, how can CIOs ensure they meet the demands of internal and external customers? Five experts offer five pieces of advice.

1. Act like a matchmaker for the business

Tullow Group CIO Andrew Marks says the current marketplace for technology, while complex, offers CIOs the greatest ever opportunity to deliver a digital future for their organisations. “For too long, CIOs have been pigeon-holed into one of two camps – those that keep the lights on at one end, and transformational leaders at the other,” he says.

"Today, the potential exists for a CIO to offer his or her organisation a true mix of both basic services and transformational capability; it is no longer simply a case of one or the other. In short, the CIO's role has become one of matchmaker."

Whether CIOs are being asked to deliver or transform, Marks says they will always have to consider a digital element. Data centres, he says, are being transformed, while mobility has become crucial and software is being delivered as a service by default.

"The new digital value lies in the CIO's ability to match the best combination of technologies and to negotiate the right deal for all parties,” says Marks. “Whether the CIOs of today have the experience, skills, and motivation to achieve this combination is a different matter. This is perhaps the more daunting challenge for the CIO than the march, and possibly passing trend, of the chief digital officer.”

2. Focus on the external customer

CIO-turned-independent-consultant Ian Cox says IT leaders need to concentrate on the only real customer – the external one – as that is where the rest of the business is centred. “If the CIO is focusing on internal customers, they risk being out of step with their peers, and being viewed and treated as a pure support function,” he says.

“By treating the rest of the business as a customer, IT immediately places itself in a subservient position. The IT department does not need to be a service provider anymore; this is the role that vendors should be playing. CIOs need to put the relevant frameworks in place with external providers and then allow the rest of the business to access and use the services they provide without the need for IT to be involved on a day-to-day basis.”

Cox says consumerisation has raised the knowledge and awareness of technology throughout the business. With appropriate frameworks in place with external service providers, and with architectural principles, data models, and relevant standards defined by IT, other business functions can meet many of their technology needs on a self-service basis. The IT function can then act as a consultant, providing advice and guidance as required.

“This approach allows the CIO and the IT function to focus on higher value activity, such as using technology to create new products and developing services to enhance the customer experience. In other words, they can focus on areas that relate to the external customer,” says Cox. (continued on next page... )

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3. Position your team as the broker

Omid Shiraji, CIO at Working Links, is one IT leader that strongly believes he does not have internal customers. “If you think you do, then you are already in a transactional relationship with your organisation. It’s not really my concern how a supplier resources my demands, so long as the deliverables are up to the quality and outcomes we specify,” he says.

Shiraji says positioning his team – not as a supplier to the business, but as the interpreter of problems and the broker of solutions with trusted IT partners – is his key strategic tenet. “This doesn't happen overnight and you can't be too explicit, as changing the long held beliefs of IT, both within my own team and across the wider organisation, represents a DNA change. And we all know how long evolution takes,” he says.

The approach also helps Shiraji to embrace and support colleagues in their selection of shadow IT. “Where technology is not a strategic differentiator, I have no problem signing off on requests to procure solutions that solve business problems, even if IT hasn't been involved,” he says.

"I manage the multiplicity of demands by focussing on the demands that deliver something to our actual customers. I don't pretend for a second I have cracked this – but over time, it's the only way I can see success.”

4. Manage stakeholder and end-user expectations

David Reed, head of information services and infrastructure at the Press Association, says CIOs must maintain a great relationship with the C-suite. “Success is about representing the strategic impact and value of IT, and without the buy-in of the rest of the business heads, that’s a very difficult thing to do,” he says.

The consumerisation of IT, says Reed, means end users have a much clearer idea of what they want. “However, it’s crucial not to start simply trying to please everyone, as bowing to that sort of pressure leads to failure,” he says, referring to the example of BYOD and the growing demand from employees to use their own devices for work purposes.

Although keen to increase worker flexibility, Reed says the threat of data loss is unacceptable. The Press Association has, therefore, worked with EE to develop a corporate owned, personally enabled (COPE) strategy, which includes a range of devices and mobile data management technology.

"By implementing the COPE strategy, we’re able to have the best of both worlds and satisfy all stakeholders,” he says. "We have a secure, reliable, and up-to-date mobile service that we can manage centrally, while our team get great devices that they feel comfortable and confident using on a daily basis for both work and personal purposes.”

 5. Recognise your work is never done

Sarah Leslie, CIO at Iglo Foods Group, says IT leaders that concentrate on business objectives are likely to be the most effective, yet she says being successful is not an end point in itself. “Any CIO who says they’re successful is probably taking their foot off the pedal,” she says.

Leslie continually focuses on ensuring that technology provides solutions to accepted organisational challenges. “Being effective is about making sure that the business' needs are being met through the IT services and functions we deliver, and at a cost that is acceptable,” she says.

“I feel I'm working effectively when the systems we deliver provide the kind of changes that meet the wider business strategy. That means that when people come and talk to us about technology, we should understand what they’re trying to achieve and be able to have an open discussion about the choices available."

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