The Role of CIOs in Technology Decisions for the ‘Next Normal’

There was an era when CIOs had to push hard to get new technology understood and accepted. Now the adoption of certain technologies has accelerated beyond anyone’s imagination, and other technologies that were previously not considered important have come to the fore. CIOs are having to readjust rapidly to the ‘next to normal’.

In these times, IT must do more than maintain infrastructure and enable business transactions. CIOs need to respond to the forces driving technology acceleration and develop an operating model to meet the new demands of the business. CIOs are leading a different IT function, where not just hardware and software are important, but also a flexible organizational model, diverse capabilities, and where collaborative teams of talented people come together.

Role of CIO

While CIO job descriptions vary wildly, their main roles are to:

  • seek out new technological options and ensure that they are integrated into the existing technology environment;
  • oversee the maintenance of infrastructure, systems, and services;
  • provide a well-resourced internal IT operation;
  • help set policy and meet governance requirements.

The two extreme types of CIOs

Traditional CIO New CIO
Scope of the role IT supply orientation. Reports to CFO. Strong technical background. Developing an agile infrastructure. Coordinating organizational information and technology requirements.
Performance metrics Cost control. Service availability. Efficiency. On-time project delivery. Service availability. Customer / user satisfaction. Technology responsiveness.
Challenges Securing budget. Gaining management attention. Stopping users DIY IT. Staying at the cutting edge of technology. Managing intelligent and demanding users. Setting technical standards and policies. Speed of response.

Adapted from Harvey Nash / KPMG CIO Survey 2020

CIOs and digital transformation

Gone are the days when technology investments could be made in isolation. Digital transformation does not occur unless all stakeholders support the process and understand the true nature of the change required. That means CIOs have to explain the technology, process, and culture changes involved, and clarify how the transformation will achieve business goals and how it could be implemented.

They don’t do this work alone. Digital technologies have become key to the work of modern CFOs, so it makes sense for the CIO and CFO to work together to make strategic company decisions and financially wise technology investments.

CIOs and technology decisions

Technology has never been as important to an organization’s ability to survive and thrive as it is at this time. CIOs play a critical role in selecting, implementing and managing technology so that IT becomes an integral part of the core strategy of the enterprise, and is able to facilitate and enable strategy. As a result, technology leaders are being consulted more than ever before.

At the same time, however, technology ownership and decision-making are becoming more distributed as other functions adopt platforms that will enable them to perform better. This makes the IT landscape much more complicated. It is one of the CIOs responsibilities, therefore, the co-ordinate technology strategies and decisions, often in conjunction with the COO.

CIOs and software to manage the enterprise

It is up to the CIO to establish the role of technology as a business and innovation partner, and for designing and implementing forward-thinking applications that deliver the services the business needs, for eliminating organizational silos by having an integrated technology approach, and to deliver excellent user and customer experiences. To keep pace with rapid technological advancements, CIOs need to implement a flexible architecture supported by integrated software platforms that allow the business to be agile and scalable.

CIOs need to play an active role in educating other leaders on how new applications will support their part of the business. This will include how a proposed solution solves underlying business problems if there are alternative approaches and the pros and cons of these approaches.

In the past, the CIO’s role in project management was to track and manage project milestones, costs, and risks. With IT playing an increasingly important part of business strategy, these metrics, while still valid need another dimension. That is one of the business value. Software projects need to show they are part of a larger plan to support or improve a business product or service or create new ones.

The role of the CIO is changing

If CIOs cling to the old business-as-usual attitude to IT, they risk becoming relegated in executive ranks. They will be responsible for keeping the lights on and the servers running, but not involved in key decisions that drive the business forward.

For forward-thinking CIOs, they should acknowledge the need for transformative change and recognize it will be a multi-year project. They must be prepared to interact with their business colleagues, so they gain a deeper understanding of business realities. From that vantage point, new technology solutions can be investigated and proposed which will be relevant to the other executives and get their support.

Taking this new approach, CIOs should understand the customer experience better, see how to use data to give a competitive advantage, and use technology to create value and generate revenue for the business.

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