5 reasons why CIO now stands for Chief Innovation Officer

Read time 5 mins

Written January 2018

Technology now drives the world economy. Read how the Chief Information Officer’s role has morphed in recent years, into a strategic post that’s more Chief Innovation Officer.

More than any other factor – more than finance, more than marketing – what we do with our tech drives the global economy.

For most companies it’s their whole business activity; for many it’s a competitive differentiator. And for an increasing number it’s mission-critical. In a hardware and software ecosystem packed with thousands of great ideas and applications, the CIOs’ focus today isn’t just on what products and services are adopted… but how strategically they’re used.

The “I” in CIO today is more about innovation than information.

If that strikes a chord with you, we hear it too. Let’s outline some of the Big Changes happening in the “I” of the storm.

1. From reactive to proactive

Yesterday’s CIO was more troglodyte than transformer. Yes, they exercised critical thinking over what hardware and software the company bought, but ultimately it was a reactive role – the CEO wanted a new capability or application in the business, and it was the IT guy’s job to make it happen.

Today, that business need is as likely to be identified by the CIO as the CEO – with the IT function being welcomed into the C-Suite as a full partner in steering the business. Whereas before the IT department was often banished to the basement, today’s CIO is more corner office, aware of the competitive environment their employer operates in and well-versed in the financial and business challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

But the CIO needs to outsource many of the day-to-day issues that clog up so much time. After all, the Head of Finance doesn’t toil all night totting up figures. The Head of Marketing doesn’t spend time writing ads. So why should the CIO spend so much time ensuring IT is always on? Without a suitable outsourced partner, the CIO lacks the time to be truly proactive.

2. From problem-solver to problem-anticipator

In areas like IT support, too many helpdesks wait for problems to arise before they devote time to solving them. The innovative CIO knows the best trouble ticket is the one that never got opened, and looks across the whole landscape of how IT is delivering for their end users, to see opportunities for avoiding problems.

A smooth IT operation allows people to improve their performance and productivity, which means enhanced performance for the business too. It also results in fewer support tickets being raised. So today’s CIO doesn’t ask how many trouble tickets the IT team is solving, or how fast; what matters is the circumstances that led to those problems, and whether they can be improved across the board. Think of one repeated weekly issue, taking a few hours a month, being solved for all time. There’s serious value in addressing those issues.

3. From manual to automated

The best IT people are rarely the busiest. We’ve all seen the 18-hour-day, always-awake IT guys who spend their days in a whirl of activity fixing bugs and updating servers – but today’s CIO sees them as generating more heat than light.

CIOs may also be familiar with the outsourced partners who happily send hefty bills citing the multiple times users are contacting them each month. But it’s the same issue being reported again and again across the organisation. And the service provider often has no interest in finding a long-term solution, because they can point to the number of calls they receive as ongoing evidence that you need them to remain operational. (And if this is how your Service Desk provider is proving their worth, you have the wrong incentivisation plan in place.)

The innovative CIO looks at processes, not isolated issues. They see patterns in the chaos and look to automate as much of it as possible. Rolling updates, automatic patches, upgrades applied to a thousand devices while employees sleep. And they understand that outsourcing doesn’t work if the partner has no interest in proactively keeping your IT functions ticking over.

4. From jack-of-all-trades to strategic expertise

Once upon a time, IT experts effortlessly skipped between sectors with no need for industry-specific knowledge. From a bank to a retailer, a manufacturer to a consultancy: they all had the same servers and much of the same software, and being an IT guy was all about being generic.

Today’s CIO takes pride in knowing the ins and outs of their sector. They are as likely to read the Financial Times as the IT trade press. And it’s no longer unheard of for IT bosses to step into the CEO’s shoes, especially in technology-intensive industries. Being the CIO today means knowing your company’s competitive environment and its financial and business strategies in great detail.

This shift enables a CIO to go from reactive to proactive. Sitting at the heart of the business, a modern CIO has sufficient knowledge and skills to recognise areas of potential business growth, propose innovative ideas, and be the catalyst for change rather than ‘just’ the deliverer.

5. From cost centre to profit centre

Lastly, the innovative CIO knows better than ever what they’re contributing to the bottom line. Budgeting is no longer just about scrimping and saving; it’s about investing, creating IT systems and processes that add value to the business and mine new seams of profit. This can be achieved by finding the right service provider to take care of the generic IT tasks, giving an in-house team more freedom to to explore business-specific innovations.

Of course, this means today’s CIO is a financial innovator as well as a technological one. You’ll see MBAs on their CVs these days; don’t be surprised to see a CIO lecturing at the local business school. They’re as interested in the business’s market success as anyone else in the C-Suite.

And like the other C-Levellers, they choose their partners carefully. When they look at outsourcing, it’ll be with someone with the same fascination about the connection between business and technology. Because in the end, they’re inextricably linked.

Out with the old, in with the new

That’s today’s CIO: an innovator who uses technology to add value to the business as a whole. But to truly maximise success, they need external resources they can rely on. Not an everyday IT services firm, but a team whose goal is to understand technology and IT services as a business enabler; who will give back time for the CIO to analyse strategic steps and find those innovative solutions.

Key takeaways

  • Today’s CIO is moving from reactive fixer to proactive strategist
  • Dealing efficiently with a stream of problems is no match for re-engineering processes
  • IT today is specialising by business sector, not by hardware and software
  • When choosing external partners, make sure they’re interested in your business first
  • IT is no longer a cost centre: it’s an opportunity centre

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