CIONET Special report

Part of the Harvey Nash Group Digital Leadership Report

Everything is changing. So everything needs to change.

Roger Camrass

Global Research Director, CIONET

You don’t have to look far into this report to see just how quickly things are changing in technology.

It’s something that is very much talked about in CIONET’s events and discussion held with our 10,000 members in 25 countries.

Seeing change is the easy bit. Understanding its implications and responding to it is much harder.

In this special report CIONET looks at the themes coming out of this research, and how digital leaders are responding.

What has changed across the digital landscape?

Gone are the IT preoccupations with monolithic ERP systems and waterfall developments. Instead, attention is being focused on sprints, agile development and software as a service.

Traditional outsourcing and offshoring relationships are being replaced by commodity products and global talent sourcing.

Debates about ‘bring your own everything’ have evaporated in the new world of hybrid working. Divisions between business and IT are set to vanish as low code/no code takes over as the primary route to applications development.

Historic indicators of efficiency, quality and speed that once defined the performance of the IT organisation are now being replaced by contribution to business agility, value and opportunity. The boundaries between IT and business are crumbling fast where ‘two pizzas’ teams are becoming the norm.

The traditional position of the CIO as ‘master of enterprise services’ is now being replaced by a new role of ‘digital pathfinder’.

Implications for the role of the IT organisation

No longer is the talk within the ‘C suite’ about ‘doing digital’. Instead, it is all about ‘being digital’.

This varies, however, between sectors and organisations. Some sectors such as Manufacturing and Utilities will continue to see IT as a means of streamlining supply chains and improving front office systems.

Others in sectors such as Financial Services, Telecommunications and Media will come to consider IT as ‘being the business’ rather than as a business enabler.

This has profound implications for the IT organisation. At CIONET we have a clear view that the role of IT will continue to be central to any organisation in the forthcoming digital era, but should evolve to reflect the new environment that it is designed to serve.

Here are some of the essential elements of the emerging IT organisation that is manifesting itself amongst our leading members:

• IT architects and runs the platforms necessary to support digital business. It guarantees security, connectivity and integration across all activities taking place within the platforms.
• IT maintains the technical community of practice that will become ever more widely dispersed across the business. It also provides technical education to everyone in the organisation, top to bottom.
• IT selects and helps apply the essential tooling that will be necessary to enable digital businesses to respond to rapidly changing external conditions. Such tools may include AI, RPA, big data, blockchain, augmented and virtual reality, and quantum computing.

In all these respects we envisage the development of the ‘T’-shaped IT worker, where the vertical bar is about specialist technical content and the horizontal bar is about broader knowledge of the business.

This should enable IT to work seamlessly across all areas of the business, back, middle and front office.

What is the future role of the CIO?

Interviewing over 50 IT executives in 2021, and publishing the CIONET Cookbook on successful recipes for digital leaders, CIONET observes a rapid elevation of the CIO from functional leadership to playing a more strategic role in the business at ‘C suite’ level.

No longer do we hear our members talking about a ‘digital strategy for business’. Instead, they are talking about a ‘business strategy for a digital future’. This implies a much deeper and more proactive understanding of the business context.

In this respect we believe firmly that the road to competitive survival against the start-ups and digital natives will be about achieving simultaneous leadership in the three main value disciplines described in Wiersema and Treacy’s book The Discipline of Market Leaders1: operational excellence, product innovation and customer intimacy. IT will be the enabling tool in all these respects.

Tomorrow’s CIO will be a business rather than a technology leader. He or she will need to fit comfortably within the ‘C suite’ and be influential in strategic development as well as operational performance.

The three possible future roles will be:

CIO as the pathfinder
A digital leader able to assimilate and communicate the relevant technology-driven disruptive forces and associated opportunities
CIO as the business platform architect
The orchestrator of platform development and operations that underpin front, middle and back office, including global shared services
CIO as the chief connecting officer
Initiating and leading technology-driven transformations across an organisation that transcend functional and business boundaries
Dealing with the legacy

To enjoy the new freedoms as a genuine digital leader, CIOs must also be prepared to clean up the legacy landscape that haunts most organisations today. In this respect, the CIO must help to transform legacy cultures, skills, systems and processes.

This will require investment and top-level support that is often missing in today’s overcrowded board agenda. Technical debt has often been compared to pension shortfalls. It is a cost that must be built into budgets and strategic plans.

One of the routes forward is to adopt a ‘cloud first’ approach to modern IT and business architectures. Many organisations are re-platforming their core applications to run on public cloud.

However, some caution is required, as risk and complexity often negate the sought-for advantages of scale and agility that are associated with public cloud. Many organisations are veering to a hybrid world of cloud and on-premises systems and applications.

A call for action

Our numerous country events and round tables suggest that the CIO community occupies a wide spectrum of maturity with respect to a digital future. CIO agendas are often overcrowded with today’s tasks rather than tomorrow’s possibilities.

The Harvey Nash Group 2021 report provides an important platform on which to assess the effectiveness of current efforts and to recognise the gaps that may exist as we look towards the future.

In this respect, the report is an essential read for all CIOs who aspire to become the digital leaders of tomorrow
“We are witnessing acceleration in the rate of change”
Alvin Toffler, eminent 20th-Century futurist and author of Future Shock