Mines of information

Technology | Thu 10 Jul | Author – Business & Finance Technology robot

Gary Watson discusses the role of the CIO in driving business growth.

The Irish economy has returned to growth, rising by 2.7% in the first quarter of 2014. While these figures place some reassurance that Ireland is now turning a corner, a crucial element of continuing this growth is an organisation’s ability to effectively make use of technology.

Three years ago, An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD clearly laid out the benefits of cloud computing for businesses including reducing costs and driving innovation. However, there is still a tricky relationship between IT and the rest of the organisation, with those outside the IT department perceiving IT as just an internal facilitator of everyday business practice.

Whether we are talking about cloud, big data, mobility, e-commerce or social media, organisations need to embrace technology and move away from these more traditional perceptions.

Firms that have embraced digital platforms across retail, entertainment and marketing have leapt forward and shaped pioneering ways of conducting business. This is why the role of the chief information officer (CIO) and their team has never been more critical to growth and success.

Changing the perception of IT

The challenge today is that although organisations are starting to recognise the value of IT – and therefore the importance of the CIO and their team – businesses are still operating in silos, with IT often plugged in as an afterthought or a necessary tick box.

CIOs now have the unenviable task of trying to change the traditional mind-set of a siloed IT department in order to show how technology can add value across the entire organisation.

It’s a tough job – in a recent survey we conducted at Sungard Availability Services (AS), only half of Irish respondents stated that their organisation breeds a culture where inter-departmental collaboration is actively encouraged.

Secondly, the CIO is facing a board which is – understandably – less digitally literate. For example, many executives – who believe they are fairly tech savvy out of the workplace through the rise of internet enabled mobile devices – can make the mistake of equating consumer IT with enterprise IT, not quite understanding the complexities of ICT’s role within the business.

The challenge today is that although organisations are starting to recognise the value of IT businesses are still operating in silos, with IT often plugged in as an afterthought or a necessary tick box.”

However, with the right tools and approach, the CIO can help build the crucial alliance between IT and the business, and ensure that their organisation’s people, processes and availability policy are properly aligned to offer the best possible chance of success.

In light of this, Sungard AS commissioned Professor Joe Peppard from the European School of Management and Technology, to examine just how the CIO can raise their profile and indeed drive business growth rather than simply ‘keeping the lights on’.

Below, I have pulled our four key points from the report, which I think ring true to any organisation.

  • Act like a business leader – the CIO is first and foremost a business leader, albeit with a special responsibility for IT. To demonstrate this, the CIO needs to speak the language of the business; executive colleagues will understand business impact not bits and bytes.
  • Get out and about who says you need to be at a desk or hidden behind a server all day? The CIO should be out of the office as much as the next business leader. CIOs are going to have to put themselves and their team in front of business executives and prepare them to have business conversations. They’re going to have to engage with users, managers, executives and sometimes even customers and suppliers. It might even be prudent to shadow business departments, go on a few sales calls, or listen in on some application development calls. CIOs have to be an agent of change, or face continuous conflict from the different lines of business
  • Coach the leadership team on the opportunities and treats of IT – this can include briefings, frequent updates about IT initiatives, and the use of new IT tools.
  • Don’t be the ‘department of no’ there may be valid reasons why the CIO holds a particular position, but from the business perspective it is IT, yet again, constraining the business. The result is tension between the CIO who thinks technology needs to be controlled and the business side saying they want more of a role in the decisions, and pushing back at IT control efforts.

Achieving alignment is ultimately about having a shared understanding, commitment and cognition between business and IT executives.

For all in the C-Suite, it is about sense making, learning, understanding and debate in respect of digitisation and digital opportunities and threats. Rather than a document, the notion of strategy in the digital world is a continuous conversation about the future direction of the organisation. To find out more, Professor Peppard’s report can be found here.

Gary WatsonGary Watson is general manager of Sungard AS Ireland and has been instrumental in the nurture, growth and development of Sungard AS’s Irish operations since 2010. During that time he has established the company’s credentials within Ireland’s managed hosting, cloud and availability services market, as well as attracting international firms looking for exemplary hosting support for their mission critical systems.