Life as a CIO in 2018

Lawrence Jones

Thursday 14 December 2017

Collating responses from almost 5000 CIOs across the world, the Harvey Nash / KPMG CIO Survey 2017 offers a glimpse into the minds of CIOs and their future plans. We examine the results and conduct additional interviews to find out what life will be like as a CIO in 2018.

Maintaining a steady course during the unprecedented global economic and political uncertainty is the most important priority for CIOs, according to the Harvey Nash / KPMG CIO Survey 2017. As well as the threats of instability, the study highlights how changing technology, growing cybersecurity threats and a continuing skills shortage will test digital leaders in 2018.

In the survey, 64 per cent of respondents agreed that the “political, business and economic environment is becoming more unpredictable”, and CIOs are changing their plans and strategies as a result.

As we move into 2018, CIOs must be confident at leading during uncertain times. But for Ketan Patel, CIO at TCC Global, that’s nothing new. “Our job is to make it as easy as possible for our respective companies to deal with the uncertainty that they face on a continual basis,” he says.

Jon Wrennall, CTO at cloud provider Advanced, says in response to this uncertainty that the role of the CIO is moving to centre stage: “IT has digitised business and is now delivering the majority of business processes.”

It’s an assertion backed in the survey, with 71 per cent of CIOs confident that their strategic influence is growing.

For Patel, strategy begins with the obligatory three-year plan, setting core objectives and defining a roadmap to success. “Usually, two separate paths are apparent: the corporate path and the industry path.”

Bringing these two strands together, while retaining a focus on the market, is key for the successful CIO.

When developing a digital strategy, Ed Addario, CTO of international currency broker Currencycloud, cautions CIOs against getting what he describes as “heavily concentrating on the minutiae”. He instead suggests they focus on providing the big-picture, strategic direction for the team.

Addario describes how the agile approach taken by his team has helped them grow at an impressive 80 per cent in a competitive market. He believes flexibility is essential during turbulent times. “Agility has to be an integral part of any CIO’s long-term strategy,” he says.

Those CIOs questioned in the survey agree, with 52 per cent engaged in “creating a more nimble” IT platform, and most looking to the cloud for solutions.

Technological solutions

“Uncertainty and opportunity can be viewed as two sides of the same coin,” Addario says, suggesting that CIOs should take risks. In the survey, 51 per cent claimed that developing innovative new products was one of the most important issues for IT to address.

“The modern CIO must dedicate more and more resources towards innovation,” says Tim Hall, CTO at Yorkshire-based Blue Logic. “In 2018, the modern IT department must drive innovation if they hope to stay relevant.”

CIOs can play an active role in developing a culture that embraces innovation. Of those surveyed, 54 per cent set aside specific time for themselves and their teams to prepare and deliver innovation.

CIO skills

The CIO is becoming an increasingly established fixture in the boardroom. But operating at this level can be demanding, claims Wrennall. “CIOs need to have increasing levels of credible experience in not just traditional infrastructural IT, but in the broader business context.”

Hall agrees: “An IT leader needs to possess a whole range of expertise.” His list of essential skills includes legal knowledge, corporate financial skills, data management skills, vendor and partner management, project management, and proficiency in compliance and security.

The survey suggests that the life of a CIO is, for many, a happy one, with 39 per cent rating their roles as “very fulfilling”, an 18 per cent increase from 2015. Those with a place at the top table on executive management teams are the happiest of all.

Even so, 28 per cent of CIOs at larger firms indicated they were looking to move on in the next year. Having a rounded skill set could help you stand out from the crowd.

Talent management

“The biggest challenge I face is the attraction and retention of the right kind of people,” Patel says. He’s not alone, as 60 per cent of CIOs feel there’s an IT skills shortage.

The skills most in demand are big data/analytics (42 per cent), business analysis (34 per cent) and enterprise architecture (34 per cent).

Patel suggests CIOs should encourage a more commercial culture within their organisations: “IT professionals at all levels should be taught early the value of bearing commercial factors in mind.” The CIO needs to instil in staff the understanding that what they do contributes directly to profitability.

CIOs can push for higher wages to attract staff, but the solution could be more complicated.

Generation Z appreciates a culture that is focused on social awareness, corporate responsibility and that has an entrepreneurial spirit,” Addario says, suggesting that CIOs should focus on creating an open culture.

So what will 2018 look like?

With an increasing risk of hacks and the scrutiny surrounding data security – particularly as businesses ready themselves for the impact of the GDPR – 2018 will see CIOs focus on building up digital trust, both internally and externally.

The importance of the CIO becomes greater each year, and 2018 will be no different. For the CIOs we spoke to, and those who responded to the survey, managing uncertainty and delivering a secure platform has been, and will remain, the focus – whatever unexpected twists and turns 2018 has in store.

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