Since there are virtually no major organisations today that don’t rely at least to some extent on ICT technology, the Chief Information Officer is naturally a key member of the executive structure. The difficulties faced by many CIOs are greater than ever before – tasked with managing the relationship between IT professionals and non-IT professionals, they bridge the gap between what is and isn’t possible with technology, from increasing profitability to cutting costs and managing the risks of security threats.
Add to this their responsibility for managing ICT resources, from budgeting through to planning and implementation, and we see how indispensable a good CIO is, and how difficult is their balancing act. Here are five truths behind what makes the best CIO:
The CIO will hopefully see IT strategy and overall business strategy as intrinsically linked. One should serve the other. Recognising the vital importance of technology to a modern business and how it can be used to make every layer of the organisation more efficient, productive and profitable, they should be able to explain this to everyone involved, from senior board members on downwards. One good example is the installation of software across a business. When you’re operating across multiple sites, with hundreds or thousands of deskbound employees all carrying out different functions, a common concern is bound to be the amount of obsolete yet still expensive software licences. Carrying out an audit through an automated process using a provider such as 1E.com can track application usage, boost visibility, and potentially save the company millions. The aim of a CIO should always be to employ technology where it will best-serve the business’s strategic aims, and cut down spend if it no longer serves a purpose.
The CIO knows the value of providing the right information to the right person at the right time, through the right channel. That could be shareholders waiting for a financial report, reporters expecting a press release, or suppliers needing to know forthcoming requirements. Since most stakeholders are now likely to inhabit the digital sphere to a certain extent, this is where the CIO will be placing a lot of focus. Platforms such as Youtube, LinkedIn and Twitter are regularly used to convey important company information, and are useful vehicles as such. The trick is in knowing which platform is appropriate for what information, and judging the timing correctly. Conversely, the CIO must also have the ability to translate the sometimes-complex language of IT into something the layman can understand.
A CIO has to walk a fine line, between cutting costs, a perennial preoccupation for higher management and shareholders, and still delivering innovation and a high-quality end product. In a turbulent economic environment, such as the world is experiencing right now, they need to be able to make fast, difficult decisions, preferably mistake-free, during difficult periods – effective strategy, and business confidence, depends on it.
Power From Proximity
The CIO should be in close contact with the CEO and CFO at all times, so that strategic decisions can be quickly translated into action. If a company plans to expand into a foreign country, for example, the CIO needs the authority to begin searching for staff there, creating a linked network, and assessing local data security requirements. It also works the other way – the CIO will be collecting data from all points of the business which can then be easily brought to the attention of key decision-makers, in a usable format. The CIO needs the power to execute decisions and if set adrift, from management, will be unable to respond effectively.
Another integral role of the CIO is in choosing staff wisely so that the demands of IT objectives can be met, and a positive business culture developed. Training, developing and retaining skilled IT workers is vital to an organisation’s success, as they bring technological innovation and capability. Empowerment and motivation through career progression, special projects and rewarding payscales can all help keep key staff in place and prevent them moving on to competition. The right staff will unquestionably be those with a high degree of technical competence and experience, but also with the interpersonal skills necessary to successfully navigate a large organisation.