Future-proof your organisation: top tips for CIOs

Lawrence Jones

Monday 14 March 2016

CIOs are responsible not only for delivering IT services, but also for maintaining the integrity of the business and supporting it as it grows. As we head into 2016, how can you ensure your organisation is fit for the future?

In 2015, research firm Gartner put business intelligence and analytics at the top of the key priorities for CIOs. But a year is a long time. In its 2016 CIO Agenda Report – the most comprehensive survey of its type, reaching 2,944 CIOs from across 84 countries – the research giant paints a fairly different picture, with change and innovation the biggest challenges facing IT leaders. It’s a role CIOs are embracing, with many becoming owners of transformation in their enterprise.

This greater strategic focus is echoed in research by the US based Society for Information Management, whose 2016 IT Trends Study highlighted the need to align IT with the overall strategic direction of the business as the priority for CIOs. Closer to home, 50 per cent of the UK’s top 100 CIOs when questioned as part of the annual CIO.co.uk report, agreed that business change was the key strategy for the coming year.

The role and priorities of the CIO are changing. It’s clear from the research that CIOs have to not only balance short-term operational demands like uninterrupted service, security and data protection, but also keep a close eye on the long-term focus for the business. So just what can CIOs do to stay ahead of the game?

Strategy in focus

As the role of IT continues to shift, embracing change and fast-tracking innovation will be key. It’s speed of delivery that’s important. “Grabbing the most innovative solutions and incorporating them for maximum business benefit, is likely to be the number one piece of advice that and CIO can act on this year,” believes Julian Hurd, CIO of Cobweb Solutions.

Hurd’s journey in IT began way back in the early 90s when he launched Freenet – the UK’s first dial-up internet provider. His advice to CIOs is to keep strategy flexible, or risk getting left behind. “Firms that aren’t looking to make rapid changes once they set their strategy will be left behind by rivals, no question.”

One way CIOs can balance innovation and delivery is by taking a bimodal approach – essentially splitting the IT function into two categories. The first part focuses on core system tasks (maintenance, stability or efficiency); the second an agile approach to project development.

Gartner estimates it’s a strategy embraced by 40 per cent of CIOs polled in its 2016 report. While not universally popular, it’s a novel way of balancing two differing priorities: maintaining business as usual versus innovation and staying ahead of the competition.

Worth a punt

“The biggest opportunity for the technology industry is to place big bets on the cloud”, Hurd continues. With two-thirds of all UK firms planning to take their IT estate into the cloud, CIOs will need to be well-placed to exploit the benefits of continued connectivity.

It’s a transition that’s likely to pose increasing problems, with research firm Vanson Bourne highlighting how CIOs found that 66 per cent of disruption and complexity was generated by the cloud. But this is nothing new, as Hurd concedes: “Privacy and security are the perennial and ever-growing concerns.”

Increasingly, IT firms from the UK are becoming exposed to international laws and international risks – at a time when data security and personal protection is becoming more relvevant than ever. “Privacy is coming to the forefront as a human right,” insists Martin O’Riada, CIO of fraud detection firm Ravelin and former online security advisor to Scotland Yard. “Companies need to be sensitive to these rights and to act impeccably with regard to privacy.”

There’s an increasing pressure on CIOs to not only plug any leaks internally, but also work more closely with partners to understand their exposure and manage their organisational risks across borders. This year, staying ahead means staying out of the headlines.

Stuck in the shadows

Increased personal connectivity and ‘shadow IT’ issues like BYOD and BYOA are growing concerns for the UK CIO. The challenge here isn’t technical, it’s cultural. “It’s vitally important to explain why IT management policies are set, so that staff understand and collaborate in making the organisation run smoothly,” explains Julian Hurd.

It’s all part of the organisation and the employee’s role of managing data, wherever it’s stored or accessed. “Control and security of business data rather than the device is clearly now the focus,” Hurd adds, while also highlighting the role of the CIO in leading cultural change and raising knowledge, and thereby the standards of data control.

But CIOs should not be too rigid. According to Martin O’Riada, organisations can benefit from both BYOA and BYOD. “New or previously unseen devices are as much opportunities to learn about risks as they are risks themselves,” he suggests. CIOs need to make a stand and lead a cultural change in the workplace, ensuring everyone respects data and understands risks.

Stay hungry

One aspect that both Hurd and O’Riada agree is a major challenge for CIOs lies in attracting the best talent. “There is recognition that investment in talent will be a key differentiator for high flying IT teams,” Hurd states. He clarifies that businesses can either develop their own staff or pay a premium for the industry’s best.

It’s not as easy as it sounds though. Across the board, CIOs will struggle with the need to balance dwindling budgets, while also dealing with an average industry pay increase of 4 per cent expected this year. Those working in desirable fields like the cloud can expect more.

The CIO has a personal role in future-proofing the organisation: leading the change, creating the strategy and managing the impact. It’s a tough job. When asked what final advice he would give to CIOs this year, with a smile, Hurd simply replies: “Stay hungry!”

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