Ever since computers were first introduced into commerce back in the 1950s, the role of the IT leader has been evolving. It didn’t take long before the digital revolution placed technology at the center of the business world. Now often to be found with a seat at the C-Suite table, Chief Information Officers (CIOs) have been adopting a more central and more strategic role within their organization. Despite that, a recent study suggests the perceptions of the CIO about their place in the business hierarchy, and the effectiveness of the IT function, can sometimes appear to be at odds with the views of their business peers.
The 14th Annual CIO Survey from CIO Magazine sought the opinions of more than five hundred IT leaders across multiple verticals and companies of all sizes. It is when their responses are compared to the information gleaned by market researcher IDC’s LOB Sentiment Survey, which taps into the perceptions of other business stakeholders, that some interesting differences are revealed.
Here is a synopsis of where tech leaders and other business leaders don’t always see eye-to-eye:
IT as an obstacle to progress. More than half (54 percent) of business leaders outside of IT view the department as being an obstacle to be overcome in order to get things done. Compare that to just a third of CIOs who take the same view, and you can see where the potential for other business stakeholders to seek their own tech solutions begins to creep.
CIO turf-wars. Almost half (47 percent) of business decision makers consider their CIO colleagues to be fighting for power with an executive level peer, as technology becomes an ever more vital part of all areas of a company. That equates to just 36 percent from the CIO sample suggesting that IT leaders are seriously underestimating the challenge they face when it comes to retaining their authority within the C-Suite. Or, perhaps they just don’t realize they are being seen as aggressive by their peers. Something worth keeping in mind for IT pros.
The danger of IT being sidelined. As a consequence to the foregoing, almost double the proportion of respondents from outside of the CIO group (37 percent compared to 20 percent), hold the view that the CIO is in danger of being sidelined in the business. Worse than that is the opinion amongst half of all executives, both within and outside IT, that the tech department is often the one that is singled out for blame whenever something goes wrong anywhere in the company.
The CIO role. On the whole CIOs are taking a much more positive view of their place in the organization, with 85 percent agreeing their role is becoming more important to the business and almost two-thirds (64 percent) reporting their job is becoming more rewarding. Sounds great right? Perhaps not so much. It seems CIOs might be living in a self-reflecting bubble. This optimism is not shared quite so enthusiastically outside of IT, where business leaders mark the same questions slightly lower, at 75 percent and 56 percent respectively.
That said, nine out of 10 CIOs admit that their role is becoming more challenging. This concept is one supported by other business heads, though at a much lower 76 percent.
The future. A difference of opinion also emerged about the future role of the CIO, with 59 percent of other business leaders taking the view that the focus will be on managing external service providers. That compares to just less than half (49 percent) of CIOs who hold the same view. This does, however resonate with the aim expressed by the majority of CIOs who reported they would like to see their functional responsibilities reduce as their role as a business strategist increases over the next few years.
There have always been turf wars and misaligned perceptions and goals within organizations, and the fact that there are differences of opinions between CIOs and other business leaders is to be expected. This report demonstrates there are clear differences between the perceptions of CIOs and other leaders within organizations, which likely comes as no surprise to any CIO or IT professional. The CIO and his or her team are facing an era of unprecedented change in the pace of technological advances, many of which these days are marketed directly to other departments and not IT. Shadow IT is growing, and employees in other business units have grown accustomed to—and want to use—technology they’re familiar with and which requires little training in their business and their personal lives. Vendors are increasingly bypassing IT and selling directly to the marketing team or other business leaders and it’s a challenge, on the best of days, for a CIO to try and keep pace with all that’s going on.
But whether they realize it or not, marketers and others within organizations need the expertise that their CIO and IT team bring to the table, and collaboration is what is needed in order to produce the best results and the best working environment and positive culture for all.
In a follow up article to the report published at CIO, business technology journalist Kim S. Nash suggests there is much that CIOs can and are doing to improve their reputation with their fellow business leaders. Some of those things include:
Make the help desk and support staff more accessible. The help desk needs to really help. As an example, positioning the IT staff in a spot where colleagues from other units can easily sit down and speak with them about technical issues in an informal setting is conducive to quick and easy collaboration and problem solving..
Create interdisciplinary staff roles. Building strong teams often means cross training people from different departments. An example of this in action is online retailer Wayfair, who focuses on relationship building by offering candidates from the business unit with a new project in hand the chance to move to IT to help manage its progress. That’s kind of a cool way to cross-departmentalize projects and learn from one another in the process.
Embed senior IT staff in other business groups. Having a seat at the table inevitably leads to better results. One way to do that is to embed your senior IT team members in your business groups. There, they can act as relationship managers and can focus on ensuring the delivery of capabilities rather than the technology itself. Not only does the IT team learn from this experience, the members of other business groups do as well.
Have IT staff visit external customers. Getting the IT team outside of the office and interacting with customers can be a big help when it comes to not only problem solving, but to putting the right solutions in place, the first time. Customers can get to know the technologists working on their needs and the IT team can see, in real time and in the real world, the issues and the challenges the customers are facing. This can not only help deliver better results more rapidly, but can also cultivate customer loyalty at a deeper level as well as improve relationships between different departments within the organization.
Put IT staff in the front line of customer contact. There is no better way to cross train teams and to broaden respect and understanding within the organization than to put peope into different roles. An example of this is again demonstrated by Wayfair, where the IT staff regularly works in the customer service department in the days around Cyber Monday, the busiest online shopping day of the year.
Involve IT staff. It’s seems like a given that getting the IT team at all levels involved in a project at the earliest possible stage can help with product development, testing, deployment, refinement, etc., but all too often that doesn’t happen. Getting the team involved early and deeply is often the key to delivering the very best results.
Focus on security. Today there is (and should be) no greater focus than on security. That’s true from the customer standpoint, the standpoint of the CEO and other business leaders, as well as for the CIO and IT team. Keeping security top of mind, at all times, is an integral part of success, on every level.
The role of the CIO is one that is undergoing a revolution in the face of ongoing tech advances, business pressures, and security challenges. At the same time, their territory is coming under pressure from the availability of accessible cloud services that empower other business units to source their own IT solutions.
The CIO report would seem to suggest that CIOs underestimate the level of the threat to their authority and to the IT function as a whole. I doubt that that’s the case. I think that CIOs are fully aware of the challenges they face and are invested in finding the right solutions for themselves, their departments, and the organizations they work for. What do you think? What do you see as the biggest challenges faced by the CIO and the IT team, and how are they best handled? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
You can find out more about the CIO magazine study at 2015 State of the CIO (Registration required to access full report)
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This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. For more on these topics, visit Dell’s thought leadership site Power More. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.
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