A manifesto for today’s digital CIO

Wael El Kabbany, Vice President for the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Mediterranean at BT Global Services, discusses how digitalisation is rapidly transforming businesses and the CIO’s role.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, aptly coined by the World Economic Forum, has disrupted traditional narratives around interaction, work and business. With the advent of new technologies and large-scale digitalisation, the digital age has thrown the CIO into the spotlight, elevating their standing in the boardroom and according them a new level of importance in terms of decision-making for a business.

Wael El Kabbany, BT

According to BT’s recent report ‘The digital CIO’, 72 percent of senior IT decision makers believe that the role of the CIO has become more central in the boardroom over the last two years. This speaks volumes about the changing role of IT in everyday business – and the concomitant shift in the CIO’s profile. CIOs are leading the digital charge by managing systems and collaborating with personnel horizontally across the business. Demand for agility and flexibility is high and CIOs are being increasingly called upon for their ability to straddle both traditional IT and the future innovation agenda.

One trend that the study points to is that digitalisation is rapidly transforming business. Technology is reshaping our world and is rapidly making an impression on the way businesses interact with customers. This change is not restricted to one industry, with enterprises from a wide spectrum of sectors, ranging from retail to aviation, realizing the need to adapt to the new digital era. 76 percent of organisations across the world are working hard to adopt a multi-speed, or bimodal, approach to technology initiatives. This approach allows organisations to prioritise specific, progressive initiatives that deliver considerable benefits to businesses.

Now more than ever, flexibility when working with new business models, faster adoption of technology trends and more agile working practices are regarded as a CIO’s crucial strengths. Although the CIO’s role continues to change dramatically, conventional priorities continue to linger. Close to two-thirds of senior IT decision-makers feel that the CIO is forced to spend more time maintaining current IT systems than searching for new solutions. That is a drop from our research in 2014, in which the figure was 74 percent, but shows that the CIO still has one foot firmly trapped in the server room door.

Likewise, the measurement of success has also shifted. Just a couple of years ago, the main indicator of success was less downtime and more network availability. The recent study shows that this has changed, with budget versus year-on-year revenue growth. Data recoverability used to be among the top three, but has dropped out to make room for lowering operational costs.

With the IT function becoming more horizontal across the organisation, the business partner model is creating a challenge for traditional IT. Both the CIO and the IT function are increasingly expected to act as consultants to other departments, guiding them in their decisions to adopt IT software and ensuring security across all applications, as well as the responsible management of information. At the same time, 79 percent of senior IT decision-makers say that the consulting skillset is most lacking within the IT function.

As organisations adapt, the rise of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud offer organisations the opportunity to implement centralised management systems and roll out security across a number of applications using a single service. This gives the IT function relief from significant upgrade and maintenance responsibilities and means that systems are no longer bound to their physical constraints.

Spearheaded by digital CIOs, digital transformation represents an unprecedented opportunity, accelerating the evolution of the Fourth Industrial Revolution at an astonishing pace. Whilst the majority of organisations now employ a Chief Digital Officer to drive digital initiatives, the responsibility for innovation still lies firmly with the CIO. Almost three quarters of boardrooms expect their CIO to be the driving force for innovation and creative disruption. The positive shift in the CIO’s responsibilities show this with greater opportunity for them to add value to the business and have a stronger say in strategic decisions.

The digital world is becoming increasingly complex. There is no doubt that digital transformation is the wave of the future, forcing companies to re-examine the way they do business. In order to keep up, organisations need to move quickly or face being left behind. The onus is now on the CIO to act as the facilitator of change and implement the steps that will lead an organisation into the future.

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