Have You Got What It Takes To Be A Super CIO?

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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Zahl Limbuwala, CEO of data centre predictive analytics company Romonet, explains what companies will expect from IT managers if they are to be successful in the coming years

The pace of technology development has increased to a sprint in recent years, changing both the lives of consumers and the way businesses operate. While CIOs in the Baby Boomer generation originally embraced the possibility of IT almost for its own sake, the primary pressure for following generations is to turn IT to the business’s advantage to remain competitive. When the current generation, weaned on the iPad and cloud, become the CIOs of the future, how will they be making IT decisions?

Cost will be at the heart of IT decisions

In a changing world of IT, the one constant for the successful CIO to keep under control will be cost. Delivering IT that helps the business do its job at the lowest total cost of ownership for the best return on investment will be at the heart of the CIO’s function, as organisations balance profitability and competitiveness. With IT forming an ever-larger segment of businesses’ costs, the drive towards minimising costs and improving the profitability of services will force organisations to find new efficiencies. CIOs that can demonstrate a clear control of costs will be highly valued.

Expectations will be shaped by consumer experiences

netflix familyWe now have a generation that sees IT as a commodity they can access on demand: they store family photos on Flickr, watch films via Netflix and shop via Amazon. At the same time, many consumer services are adopting a “freemium” model: free or low-cost basic services that are supplemented by advertising or expensive add-ons. As this generation rises to the role of CIO, they will expect their business IT to operate very much like those cloud-centric services they are already used to. However, just because a service model is more convenient for the consumer, doesn’t necessarily mean it will make the best sense for the business. The most successful CIOs will be those that can recognise this and make decisions based on financial sense, rather than their own expectations.

Decisions will be judged harshly

Growing expenditure on IT means it will be under much greater scrutiny. Costs and results will be inspected in detail to ensure that the business is getting the best possible value. As a result, the CIO must be able to validate every decision they make: whether planning and implementing brand new projects or ensuring the day-to-day operations of IT services. With little margin for error, CIOs of the future will need to predict the effects of any changes to an IT environment on performance and operating costs, and demonstrate how the choices and investments they make will benefit the business.

IT will never stand still

The current generation of cloud-weaned users may see the cloud as the ultimate good when they mature to becoming the CIO of tomorrow, but the cloud is not the ultimate evolution of IT. Technology will continue to develop and change, often in entirely unexpected directions. The risk is that, as IT evolves, new technologies and methods of accessing IT will be seen as one-size-fits-all solutions, when in reality the older ways are more appropriate. We are already seeing this in the early 21st century, where businesses will place IT services in the public cloud without understanding whether it will truly save on costs, especially when in-house data centre space is then left empty and is not taken into account. Understanding how different functions are delivered to the business, and the costs (and risks) involved, will be key to managing whether IT is delivered on-premise, over the cloud, or in ways yet to be discovered.

CIOs and CFOs will both move with the times

The CIO is not the only role that will change during the 21st century. The growing importance of and investment in IT mean that the CIO will become a much more cost-focused position, as their technology consumes more of the business’s budget. At the same time, this growth of IT means it will become increasingly important to CFOs, who will both see IT as a significant part of their budget and are far more likely to have grown up technology-literate, at the very least. We are therefore likely to see the CFO and CIO’s roles become much closer, as both will aim to focus resources in the way which will most benefit the business. In this environment, being able to clearly communicate with the CFO and demonstrate the effects of investment will be crucial to CIOs. This clarity of communication is required to both support their own decisions and to guide other executives down the best possible investment path.

The CIO of the future will have powerful tools at their disposal, but will also have hard decisions to make – any one of which could potentially make or break the business. Those that can take control of costs, and fully understand and verify the effects of any decision, will be best placed to help their organisations succeed as we move through the 21st century.

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