Many organisations today still misinterpret the role of the CIO as a ‘head of IT’ – the computer guy, stowed away in a back office while the “Business Units” make the business decisions that matter. However, as the business world continues to rely on information to provide their competitive advantage, that perception is being rightly challenged. Technology alone doesn’t differentiate a business from its competitors – but information can, which is why the CIO is such a critical part of the senior management team.
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Information is now the single most valuable asset available to a business, and as a result, the responsibility and influence of the CIO is evolving at pace. With the rise of the cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT), valuable data is pouring into businesses at an exponential rate. As customers increasingly come to expect a highly personalised experience, getting the greatest possible value out of that data is key to success. The CIO is tasked with overseeing the consolidation of data from hundreds of sources, enabling the company to extract relevant insights and ultimately driving revenue growth as a result.
The CIO has a unique advantage in this aim thanks to their overarching view over the company’s information assets. In an average mid-sized business, for example, the marketing department may run its campaigns on a dedicated platform like Marketo, while the sales teams record their leads in Salesforce. Neither has a view into the other’s data. The CIO, on the other hand, has responsibility across business units and is able to see what data is stored by the company across all these platforms. Importantly, this gives them the opportunity to spot where relevant connections can be drawn between disparate data stores. For example, giving sales reps access to social media interaction data from marketing teams so they know which companies or individuals have been showing interest in the company online.
However, the task of connecting data is becoming more complex, as corporate information sources exist across a widening range of locations. The CIO of a manufacturing company, for example, may have several thousand shop-floor sensors to manage, all feeding in gigabytes of real-time data on everything from temperature and humidity to production count and fault reports. Meanwhile, line-of-business units could be racking up information in cloud-based Software-as-a-Service apps and self-service analytics platforms. For the modern CIO, the key challenge is to enable the business to efficiently sort and make use of the data available, making the relevant patterns and trends available in as close to real-time as possible.
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Of course, there is more to the role of CIO than just technical wrangling. A growing number of CIOs aren’t IT stalwarts. Instead, they are experienced business people with a strong understanding of operational discipline, efficiency and measurement and are best equipped to improve their team’s and the company’s performance. The CIO role is essentially an enabling generalist – a leader with a view into each of their team members’ areas of expertise, who can unite them for a single purpose. Part of this is about rallying IT teams around the most important issues to the business. To do that the CIO needs to be able to enfranchise each team member and make clear in the wider context of the business why they are doing what they are doing.
Finally, for the new breed of CIO trying to get data analytics into the boardroom and educate the business as a whole about their role, it’s essential to be proactive in taking responsibility for important, high profile projects. By requesting the lead, the CIO can demonstrate not only their technical ability but also how IT dovetails with and can lead transformation in flagship initiatives. In a software company, for example, by taking responsibility for overhauling the company’s subscription fulfillment model, the CIO becomes a key player in leading both a technical project and a major change to how the company does business.
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Ultimately, if companies don’t take advantage of their information assets, competitors will. Just look at hospitality – it was a capital-heavy industry requiring property and employees all over the world until Airbnb changed that with an information-centric model. If organisations in other markets are to avoid the same fate, they will need the help and guidance of their CIO to ensure that business unit leaders can bring data into the boardroom, shifting the discussion from functional optimisation to enterprise optimisation and uniting disparate divisions and platforms behind transformative initiatives to push the company forward. Information holds the key not only to redefining the future of the CIO, but also to overall business success.