Why CIOs don't care about Windows 10

The list of things that tech chiefs care about is long, but where should something like Windows 10 factor?
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
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IT leaders are more concerned with leadership and innovation than with Windows 10, or any new operating system.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

I've been speaking with CIOs about Microsoft Windows 10 and the results have been surprising.

It's not that they are more positive or negative than I expected about Microsoft's latest operating system. What is most surprising is how many of the IT leaders I've spoken to don't have much of an opinion on Windows 10 at all.

My recent questions to CIOs around how they feel about Windows 10 have often been met with shrugs. One CIO confided in me that he didn't even know whether his firm had updated to the latest operating system yet (he suggested opening his laptop to check).

What's sexy?

Part of the problem is that for some, the new operating system is just another in a long line of updates. It is difficult to get excited about the latest install of Windows if you've been around so long that you remember the switch from command-line DOS.

Career CIOs, therefore, feel they've pretty much seen it all. Windows 10 might boast a revised user interface and as-a-service updates, but the operating system is unlikely to raise much interest from experienced CIOs.

Perhaps that's because operating systems are evidently now regarded as the unsexy part of the IT industry when compared to hot-and-hyped concepts like the Internet of Things or artificial intelligence. It's also a reflection of the role of the modern CIO: they recognise they will make their mark by delivering value and improved customer experiences, not by simply updating desktop software.

That focus on customer experience means maintaining a tight grip on the key components of digital transformation, such as social, data, mobile, and cloud. Today's IT leaders want to have a lasting impact on leadership and innovation, not day-to-day operations.

Research from market researcher Vanson Bourne suggests as many as 85 per cent of IT decision makers agree that the traditional CIO role is changing. The traditional, operationally focused IT director is on life support: CIOs who want to thrive in modern business must tip towards transformation, according to the study.

Details, details

This focus on change can produce some surprising results. For a start, the blind spot on operating systems is not just confined to Windows: it's just one of the details the IT leaders I've spoken to don't have high on their list of priorities.

There's a vision of the CIO as the guardian of the technology department -- that she is meant to be the go-to executive for IT decision making, and that she should be the font of technical knowledge.

But that's not the correct view anymore. Rather than being the sole preserve of the IT director, technology knowledge has been decentralised.

In the decade since the launch of Apple's iPhone, rampant consumerisation of tech means everyone, everywhere has an opinion on devices and applications. The worker on the shop floor is as likely as the executive in the board room -- more likely, perhaps -- to have an opinion on the IT used in the business.

Technology professionals lower down the career ladder often bemoan the modern CIO. It is a regularly heard complaint that too many IT leaders know too little about technology. But great CIOs have left the data centre for good and are instead engaging with their business peers on key concerns, such as strategy, leadership, governance, and innovation.

These outwardly-engaged CIOs are revelling in the fact that IT is no longer a dark art understood by the few. These CIOs recognise there is little requirement for a traditional IT director who can bore the boardroom with the subtle differences between operating systems. What the business needs now is a value-focused executive that engages with IT and business peers to find the right solutions to intractable challenges.

The shift is on

That shift helps to explain why the route to CIO is now less clearly defined than in the past.

Digital transformation might involve a series of technical components, from infrastructure to user interfaces. But the success of a change programme is reliant on a whole series of non-technical factors, such as culture, engagement, and entrepreneurship. Digital transformation is a constant journey. Great CIOs work with others to define a destination and bring various internal and external parties along for the ride.

And yet, technology chiefs cannot afford to leave traditional IT concerns completely unattended. CIOs must be able rely on a team who can maintain stable operations while they engage with stakeholders. Trusted deputies, therefore, play a crucial role by allowing the modern CIO to dedicate more time to business transformation.

Every CIO knows that three to five projects must be successful each year. Savvy CIOs ensure they are personally focussed and engaged in these key initiatives, while delegating responsibility for other projects to lieutenants.

So it might, in reality, be a little unfair to say IT leaders are not interested in Windows 10. Many organisations remain wedded to the Microsoft stack. Any change in strategy from the IT giant will interest organisations with a heavy Microsoft bent. CIOs recognise Windows 10 provides many benefits, including improved user experience and collaboration.

But those benefits can only be realised as part of a much wider business strategy. In a digital world of multiple systems and services, Windows 10 is just another tool that might help an organisation work more efficiently and effectively. Smart CIOs only become interested in Windows 10 when it helps the business achieve its aims.

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