From keeping the lights on to lighting the way – the changing role of the CIO

In recent years the CIO’s role has changed from simply delivering an organisation’s IT, to performing an essential role, supporting and facilitating business strategy, directly contributing to the generation of revenue and profit.

With this change the CIO has also seen a shift in reporting lines. A few years ago the head of the IT department would report to the CFO/FD as IT was seen as overhead rather than part of the strategic outlook for the organisation. Increasingly CIO’s are now reporting directly to the CEO/MD. This shift clearly underlines the way in which businesses are viewing IT as a vehicle for helping an organisation achieve its goals.

CIOs are now not only being tasked with “keeping the lights on”, but also supporting customer acquisition and retention, and helping the organisation reach its revenue goals, while at the same time completing major enterprise projects and product innovation efforts.

The table below outlines some of the areas that the modern CIO’s remit touches:

Many CIOs find it difficult to balance the strategic responsibility of business innovation against the need for daily operational excellence, as demanded by their internal customers.

Commonly, the answer prescribed to the moaning CIO is to “simplify IT” which, in this age of ever increasing demands, is not an easy feat to accomplish. Trying to do this internally, perhaps using a limited set of legacy hardware and applications is fine to a point, but you can only sweat an asset for a period until it holds everything else back.

Fortunately cloud services offer a solution, and far from being a theoretical possibility with numerous problems in reality, cloud has reached maturity. The legacy issues that would have acted as impediments to adoption have been resolved, making it the natural choice for the hard pressed CIO.

Data security, which is often highlighted as a reason not to use offsite IT, is actually improved with a managed services provider, and this message seems to be sinking in with end users: 69% of respondents from Claranet’s recently released research report believe that offsite IT is as safe or safer than traditional on-premises IT. It’s easy to understand why as well, managed service providers have to be experts in handling customer data, to keep their credibility and because they are governed by strict industry standards.

One particularly attractive feature to a CIO is the managed service provider’s ability to charge an agreed monthly fee with an SLA (Service Level Agreement). Effectively this means that an expert handles the infrastructure, the patching and complications, with guarantees of uptime and cost, leaving the CIO to focus on meeting the strategic goals of the company - it’s what CIO’s are paid for.

Because of the inherent benefits of operating this way, we are seeing a growing trend in “out tasking” of daily operational tasks such as email, remote desktop and associated services. We see no sign of this decreasing either – results from a number of surveys indicate that CIOs are more likely to increase their spending on outsourcing in the near future.

Being able to pass over the support of very operational but business critical applications to a trusted partner is proving to offer CIOs a good blend of control over the day-to-day and the ability to free up operational resource to work on more strategic projects.

For example tailored services like a Citrix based desktop solution solve a number of issues around BYOD, security and the need for additional administrative staff. Equally, it also provides some assistance to business continuity planning and disaster recovery strategies.

In conclusion, the modern CIO needs to deliver not just operational excellence, but innovation and thought leadership at a strategic level for the organisation. Some of this won’t be in-house, and by looking to outsource your daily operational IT applications, this frees up time to focus on the strategic areas, liberating resource, and at the same time, making your IT delivery more agile. Best of all, it builds in a level of business continuity, and can form part of your disaster recovery strategy.

Blogger's note: I use the words trusted partner, because often, rather than interacting in a traditional purchaser/vendor model, we find ourselves working in a much closer way with CIOs. We provide insight and advice on the best cloud based practice, whether a “hosted office” would work for our customer, and which cloud strategy they should adopt.

Written by Steven Jelly - Senior Business Development Manager

With over 20 years in the communications & IT Industries, Steve has a wealth of experience helping organisations realise their operational goals and financial efficiencies from an IT perspective. His background takes in Wide Area Networks, RF services, Managed Hosting and Managed Business Applications.