CIOs need to step up to remain relevant in business, says analyst

By Sooraj Shah
20 Apr 2012 View Comments
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CIOs need to step up, change their mindsets and communicate with other business areas to stay relevant, according to Forrester analyst Khalid Kark.

Kark said that the role of CIO has changed from technology manager to business executive. To adjust to this change, CIOs need to act as influential business partners that are not just collaborating with the business, but co-creating solutions for the organisation.

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Speaking to Computing, Kark said that there were three main barriers holding back CIOs from success, and that if they don't overcome these obstacles, a business will find other ways to source technology.

"The first barrier is the most common and also the most difficult to handle: brittle processes and legacy systems," he explained.

"Many organisations have legacy systems in place, and those systems were built with a ‘traditional IT mindset' of creating a solution that is very specific to a particular need. These are not quick in responding to requests.

"Over time, features have been added to legacy systems that make them very brittle and, if systems are brittle, then the processes around them are brittle as well. As a result, every time there is a business need from an IT system, it is either too late, or the system is not efficient enough to respond to that need."

Kark said that CIOs should look at the core business issues, and, where necessary, move these onto better systems or processes.

"There are typically a handful of systems within an organisation that provide the bulk of support to the business. CIOs should look for the problem areas of those systems and either mitigate them by moving them onto something else, or augment the system through other systems or processes to make them more agile."

The second barrier is what Kark called CIOs' "victim mentality", when business leaders blame IT staff and systems for not meeting business-related goals on time.

Equally, this occurs when IT believes business leaders do not understand how the technology is used and ask for solutions that are unrealistic.

"Niche service providers offer the solution without the flexibility, scalability, integration and the security, and because of this there is a disconnect between the IT and business sides of the organisation," he said.

According to Kark, CIOs can tackle this problem by maintaining an ongoing dialogue with chief marketing officers (CMOs) and other business leaders.

"At an event last year, CMOs said that approximately eight per cent of their marketing budget is spent on technology and CIOs said they were unaware that it was this high.

"A lot is spent outside the IT part of the organisation. IT is not always able to support the business with what it wants, and so other parts of the organisation look externally to get whatever they need," he said.

Kark said the third barrier to success was the quest for "bulletproof solutions".

"The mindset of a technologist is to solve a problem by creating the best solution possible. Bulletproof solutions are fine for a very small subset of all necessary IT solutions," he said.

"But there can be solutions that are prototypes that may not have all of the functionality, integration and scaling capabilities, but are a good starting point. If it is then something that the business picks up on, a more robust solution can be created. This may be more time-consuming [in the long run], but it allows IT departments to respond more quickly to business demands" he said.

Kark referenced recent Forrester research among business leaders, which found that over half of them – 54 per cent – do not believe that IT professionals understand business needs.

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