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CEOs demand CIOs to be futurists

o Chee-Sing Chan
30.05.2014 kl 19:55 | Computerworld Hong Kong

The CIO role today seems to be as defined or as undefined as anyone wishes it to be. Expectations for the CIO are veering from being just the good old plumber of systems right up to the multidimensional strategic innovator for business.


The CIO role today seems to be as defined or as undefined as anyone wishes it to be. Expectations for the CIO are veering from being just the good old plumber of systems right up to the multidimensional strategic innovator for business.

The common element across the whole spectrum of CIO roles today is that they should all be able to offer insight and some level of clarity into the manically shifting technology landscape.

Peter Hind, CEO of the HindSight Forum, likened the CIO role to being an elite Formula One driver. "The very best drivers do not obsess with every corner that comes up, but focus on adapting and responding as you go around the corner," he noted. "CIOs should react to instances along the path rather than expect to be forewarned about every little thing that comes their way."

Ultimately this is a challenge that consumes all business leaders as they face a much more unpredictable and uncertain world today, with CIOs in particular residing in a sphere of almost constant change.

Hind spoke at the recent CIO Leadership Forum organized by Computerworld Hong Kong and observed how technology leaders today are expected to break from type and assume a more dynamic adaptive skillset.

"In IT we like to plan, we like to give the business clear roadmaps with detailed points in the journey ahead. But how do you plan in a prescriptive manner in a world where you don't know what's ahead?" he asked.

That should not mean CIOs discard the planning process altogether but a plan should be open and flexible to change. "Treat your plan as a guide to your destination and not as a set path," said Hind. "CIOs must respond and deviate as things come along that path but always with the destination in mind."

The art of future gazing

For Joe Locandro, director of IT at Cathay Pacific, the demands from his CEO are clear. IT must help deliver operational efficiency, customer intimacy and finally innovation.

The hardest challenge for CIOs today is making the right technology picks that help deliver these objectives while making business sense and not just for the sake of deploying great technology.

"Making the right pick requires experience, vision and a strong sense for strategic forecasting," noted Locandro. He observed how every company today is grappling to leverage mobility effectively but how the leading companies deploying mobility today will have started with a clear vision for mobility many years ago.

Longer-term view

"Starting on mobility now is an absolute must but chances are you are already way behind the leaders in your space," he said. "In our case we are not looking at what apps should be deployed today, we are looking ahead to what will be needed in 2016 and beyond because technology moves at a much greater pace than ever before."

Locandro added that to do this successfully requires a commitment from the business and technology leaders to devote resource to these technology and business bets. "The expectation from CEOs today is for CIOs to provide some level of vision and foresight into what's coming and what may matter most," he added.

Joining Locandro in the closing discussion on the theme of the changing CIO role were Elie Hadaya, CIO at CSL and also Nick Marsh, managing director of leadership recruitment firm Harvey Nash.

Both talked about the difficulty around pursuing innovation for IT leaders. Hadaya noted that the first thing that must be overcome is often culture. "People generally are not allowed to fail but you may need to fail nine times before that one success," he said. "There must be some allowance for trying things that may not deliver a return and at CSL we have labs and resources that allow for such trials."

Blurring of lines

The message for any CIO or business leader is that the path to innovation will always come with risk. But the key is ensuring that whatever the IT organization pursues is always aligned to the CEO vision and key goals. "CIOs must set a roadmap that aligns with the agreed vision and assess the risks of all the elements in that roadmap," said Locandro. "Some will be more mature and likely to succeed, others will carry more risk but higher potential of significant change and impact."

As CIOs push ahead in this challenge, Locandro predicted that CIOs will find themselves increasingly drawn into areas unfamiliar to them. In the airline industry, technology leaders are likely being asked to understand aspects of engineering, avionics and aviation systems that are often beyond the domain of the IT organization. Likewise the engineering and other business units may become more aware and curious about how IT fits into their operations.

But for CIOs to succeed in enabling innovation and transformation, this blurring of lines must be expected. And according to Locandro this convergence is a good sign. The cross fertilization of knowledge between IT and other areas of the business is a healthy indication of a progressive and collaborative organization. "However the blurring of accountability must be avoided," he warned. "Businesses should avoid having IT offshoots within and deployments that are not governed or you end up with shadow and rogue IT which is not aligned."

The interesting dynamic for CIOs is they will be challenged to take on even more tasks and responsibilities not normally within the CIO scope. Things like customer service, marketing-related IT, industry-specific systems such as in airlines and transport companies, will all move into the CIO's reach.

The question many are asking today is: Is the role too big for CIOs? Can they be the digital business leader, the chief innovation officer as well as maintain the core systems?

The rise of CDOs

According to Nick Marsh, managing director at Harvey Nash, new roles like chief digital officer are being created to address these new innovation challenges. He noted that sometimes the CIO takes this role, sometimes they are completely new hires with marketing and digital commerce background.

"This shifting role is really down to the individual to define," said Marsh. He noted that as leadership executives within a company progress they will all move into areas normally outside of their own traditional competencies and by nature some will assume more responsibility as they relish the new tasks and are comfortable in that role, while others may not be so keen to tackle these new areas.

He noted that he has seen CIOs assume COO roles where technology is at the core of that role -- in banking and logistics this is becoming more prominent. "The CIO role will change and I expect future CIOs will have more non-IT functions under their remit and if CEOs have trust in the CIO then their role will expand, if not then you will see Chief Digital Officers emerge or other similar positions," he said.

Locandro agreed that ultimately it is an individual issue on how the CIO role develops, rather than an easily-defined broad categorization of the future CIO. "The difference is really being a leader or a manager," he said. 'Some [CIOs] are great managers of systems and a tight IT team and are very skilled in this discipline, but some businesses need the CIO to be a leader where it becomes more than just managing--a role that requires vision, fortitude, plus the courage and conviction to push for change."

Keywords: IT Management  Business Issues  
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