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The Changing Role Of The CIO


November 28, 2014  


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Dealing with constant change has been the “new normal” in IT for many years. Now, we are seeing the pace of change accelerate with an onslaught of new enterprise technologies such as cloud computing and mobile-first solutions.

Today, three quarters of Canadian CIOs and senior IT leaders believe their role as an IT decision-maker has changed significantly in the last three to five years, while 60% say their job has changed in that they are providing more strategic input into other business lines or functions. These results from a recent survey commissioned by Cogeco Data Services and hosted on the Angus Reid Forum show that the role of IT leaders has expanded to encompass new areas of responsibility.

Today, IT organizations are looking at a borderless world of seamless communication and collaboration – there are big bets on unified communications and cloud-based services. IT and telecom are converging, creating new opportunities (and challenges) for telcos and IT service providers alike.

Location is no longer a constraint for hiring and motivating the best and brightest people. A hardware-centric world has been swept aside by this rising tide of cloud computing and integrated communications platforms, all dependent on software. Whether applications, data and information are kept on premise, hosted in the cloud, or somewhere in between, the life of Canadian and global enterprises, along with their management teams, has irrevocably changed.

In fact, a recent IBM report revealed that most CEOs consider technology the single most important external force shaping their organization.

In Canada we are seeing a shift in how organizational leaders are developing their operations and the tools they are using to advance their business objectives.

According to a recent Deloitte report, advances in technology are inadvertently creating change and are becoming the driving factor for change. The report found that “IT is often the key enabler for business transformation, especially as you consider technology is involved in nearly every aspect of the business environment.” Technology is moving from a business support function to an important strategic business driver.

A new job description

These fundamental shifts are transforming the role of IT and creating career opportunities for IT leaders and influencing their career aspirations.

The Cogeco Data Services survey showed that 87% of IT executives in Canada see the growing importance of technology for overall business success as increasing the chances of CIOs and senior IT leaders of stepping into the CEO position or other C-level roles in core business decision-making functions.

And strikingly, the research found that nearly half of them are interested in being CEO of their organization and that 82% of them believe their experience as an IT decision-maker positions them well to take on this role.

The new breed of IT executives understands both the complexities and the potential of technologies like big data or marketing automation. To turn them into business opportunities, they need to combine business, technology and people skills to motivate and propel a shift for IT departments from being viewed as cost centres to profit drivers.

Driving change from the inside out

The best way to address increasing complexity is by developing a corporate culture that drives business transformation, and creates the ability to adapt and scale quickly, so that new opportunities can be seized and competitive threats thwarted.

For CIOs and senior IT leaders, we see four core tenets of creating such an agile organization:

Share information – encourage the CIO and other experts to educate the executive team to make sense of complex technology. If IT is to become a business driver, everyone from the CEO to CFO and COO needs to have more than a rudimentary understanding of it.

Obtain the right talent – by hiring and training a team with the right skills, companies can effectively use their people to ensure the strength and longevity of any technology-driven transformations or enhancements of core business functions.

Assess the current setup – with the constant introduction of new technologies, businesses need to assess their current infrastructure to ensure a new framework is the right fit or to create a new path to replace it.

Evaluate new technologies – having a deep understanding of what is currently available and what technologies are up-and-coming can arm businesses with the right tools to achieve their goals and ensure a competitive advantage against their peers.

One of the most prominent new technologies with a strong impact on the role of IT leaders is cloud computing. The Deloitte report asserts what we too are seeing: “cloud computing can play a key role in the success of business transformation through its potential impact on top-line growth, customer satisfaction, operational efficiency and business diversification.”

The move to the cloud opens up a wealth of opportunities through a more dynamic, agile and scalable IT environment. At the same time, organizations are assessing cloud solutions with strong interest in factors such as security, privacy and compliance. We often see companies evolve through a three-tiered progression of cloud adoption:

Cloud as technology – where a mission-critical event makes a move to the cloud imperative. It could be a shift in priorities or maybe just the observation that legacy systems are at the end of their lifecycle. In this scenario, IT is still a traditional cost center, and cloud is viewed as a way to save costs or outsource non-core functions.

Cloud as category – here, the conversation is shifting and specific use cases are considered. Different types of cloud solutions – public, private or hybrid – are considered and the actual use moves beyond test and development scenarios. IT is now working together with specific business units deploying the first pilot programs. It is a step from IT as cost center to partnership.

Cloud as strategy – something fascinating happens here: the cloud is not just technology after all. The cloud is a business strategy. It is a smart, flexible, and ultimately affordable enabler of the company’s business model. Now, fully cloud-enabled business leaders can view IT infrastructure as a means to drive their business forward. Development projects can be quickly carved out and scaled up so that programs and products can be rapidly put in the market with little financial risk. Companies are no longer constrained by infrastructure – they can compete now solely on their ingenuity, speed and execution.

According to our research, half of the Canadian IT professionals believe that IT now has a bigger role in driving profit for their companies, with a similar percentage echoing the belief that they now play a substantially bigger role in strategy development. Importantly, the Canadian IT executives deeply involved in this cloud as strategy pillar are the ones who see themselves as the next COOs and CEOs.

A new frontier

The capabilities and knowledge required to lead successful companies in the current marketplace have changed and the opportunity for IT executives to play a leading role in shaping and driving their company’s strategy has never been greater.

Increasingly senior-level IT professionals are receiving recognition for the growing prominence of their role in the evolution and success of their companies. As we speak, more and more IT professionals are breaking down silos and stepping up to the task as information and communications technology becomes an essential part of creating a competitive advantage.

As president and CEO of Cogeco Data Services and Peer 1 Hosting, Tony Ciciretto is responsible for overseeing Cogeco Cable’s enterprise services business. Combined, the companies deliver data centre, cloud infrastructure, managed hosting, managed IT and connectivity services to approximately 12,000 customers in a variety of industry sectors in North America and internationally.

 


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