IT jobs: How the role of the CIO is changing - again

CIO strategies: How the IT leadership role is changing and how will it evolve during the next decade.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

While some thought the consumerisation of IT would diminish the role of the technology chief, in reality it seems the continued digitisation of operations in all business sectors means CIOs are now firmly at the heart of the modern business.

Yet more challenges lie ahead: marketing chiefs are responsible for a larger proportion of the technology spend than ever before and line-of-business employees can use the cloud to buy services without bothering to consult the CIO. Add in new c-suite positions, like the chief data or digital officer, and IT leaders face challenges in multiple directions.

So, how will the IT leadership role evolve during the next ten years? ZDNet speaks with five technology experts who define the future role of the CIO.

1. Exploiter of new opportunities

Richard Gifford, CIO at logistics specialist Wincanton, says smart IT leaders are now in a stronger position than ever before - and the opportunities will only increase during the next decade. "The CIO has always been a privileged position because we have a view across the whole organisation," he says.

"That will continue - and that view gives us a significant advantage in the digital journey ahead. The future role is going to be much more about exploiting digital opportunities and new business models, rather than wandering around the data centre and trying to improve the optimisation of existing technology."

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Gifford says the best IT chiefs draw on a range of systems and services to create lasting digital transformation. "It's a seat at the top table, and it's about helping to drive the business and its performance, much more than it has in the past," he says.

"I come from a business and marketing background. I've always been commercial and I've focused on how you drive performance through technology. I'm much more interested in business value then the tin and the flashing lights. There's plenty of others who can take care of the technology better than me."

2. Orchestrator of creative solutions

Brad Dowden, CIO at recruitment specialist Airswift, says the commoditisation of technology means enterprise technology is no longer the dark art of the business and many fields of the IT profession are converging. As technology frameworks become standardised, a lot of the harder integration work is being taken care of by vendors.

"I think there'll be a much smaller group of people running IT in the future," he says. "Great IT professionals will make sure they work alongside their business colleagues to think carefully about how they apply the technology to the best possible advantage within their own organisations."

While the likes of Google, Amazon and Microsoft will source talented computer scientists to build the tools, most of the rest of the world will simply be consumers of their services. Dowden says he is already seeing that trend in his firm, where the IT team are more focused on business awareness and analysis, rather than technical proficiency.

"They have flair for how technology can be configured to deal with business processes, not for writing lines and lines of code," he says. "What you'll be left with in the future is a creative role. Orchestrating the art of the possible, and working out how different elements come together, is where you can add value as an IT leader."

3. Integrator of higher-order services

James Tomkins, chief architect at the Met Office, is one of a new breed of IT leaders who are working for organisations that have embraced digital transformation. He says more change is on the horizon - and it will have a direct impact on the role of the CIO during the next ten years.

"As you see the continuing drive towards commoditisation around a few major providers, you'll see a change as certain services become more like a utility," says Tomkins. "That cycle will continue and the organisations that thrive will be those that are focused on the new, higher-order services and how those are applied to solving business problems."

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He says the Met Office is already taking a value-focused approach to IT. The aim is to move the organisation's IT staff away from activities that are being commoditised and towards tasks that rely on higher-order services, such as serverless computing, Internet of Things and voice interfaces. In the future, Tomkins says the most effective CIOs will support the delivery of value through advanced technology to the rest of the organisation.

"Businesses must be prepared to jump to that next level of higher-order services," he says. "Disruptors are entering the marketplace all the time and can seize the opportunity without being restricted by legacy processes. Organisations that want to lead need to be able to show that they can take advantage of these advanced technologies."

4. Sponsor of great customer relations

Juan Perez, CIO at UPS, also recognises the key role that IT leaders and their tightly-honed teams will play in creating new business opportunities through digital systems and services. Yet at the same, he says the clamour for innovation cannot trump the need for operational effectiveness, particularly regarding long-standing systems.

"We still need to maintain legacy IT," says Perez. "We cannot simply swap out our existing kit and change to advanced technologies. That transformational shift requires an effective balancing of both budgets and business expectations."

Perez says the key to success is a mechanism for work prioritisation. "People need to get technologies that will help them to work more efficiently and effectively," he says, before drawing attention - once again - to the importance of modern CIOs delivering value from IT investments to the rest of the business.

"It's much more than cost reduction," says Perez. "Great value is about implementing technologies that will help your business to improve service and to boost connectivity with customers."

5. CEO of the future

Lisa Heneghan, global head of KPMG's CIO advisory practice, believes there should be no limit to the potential height of IT leadership ambitions. "As technology becomes increasingly important, we are beginning to see CIOs move into CEO roles," she says.

"So much of what CEOs control is now related to technology. So, I think CIOs must have their eyes open across a much broader horizon of opportunities, rather than constraining themselves to what they know they can do today."

Find out more: What is a CIO? Everything you need to know about the Chief Information Officer explained

Heneghan says an ever-increasing number of organisations already want IT-literate specialists on the board. "We're seeing increasing numbers of CIOs moving into non-executive roles to help businesses understand the risk and opportunities around the use of technology," she says.

While existing IT leaders now have the chance to use their knowledge to help businesses grow, so next-generation CIOs will have the opportunity to take on broader, cross-company roles. "Organisations face a complex challenge now because technology is affecting every element of the business," says Heneghan.


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