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CIOs aim for CEO role as technology transforms businesses

Computer Weekly reveals exclusive research from Deloitte on the changing role of the CIO

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CIOs have the opportunity to reach for the CEO position if they can hone their leadership skills.

Research into the changing role of CIOs, revealed by Computer Weekly, found that the line between CIO and chief executive is beginning to blur.

The Deloitte survey of 1,200 technology leaders in 43 countries showed that CIOs have the opportunity to drive business strategy in a way that has not been possible before.

“There is a genuine feeling that CIOs now have an opportunity to move into that CEO role,” said Mark Lillie, UK CIO programme leader at Deloitte, in an interview with Computer Weekly.

CIOs are moving into business leadership. Technology now underpins every business, and chief executives are increasingly focused on how they can use technology to drive their business, creating opportunities for CIOs to drive company strategy.

CIOs have already moved into chief executive positions in some challenger banks, which are redesigning banking technology to compete with established banks, and in innovative retailers. And in manufacturing companies, CIOs have moved in to broader chief operating officer (COO) roles, the research found.

“These companies have a very clear vision for business and IT, which is intertwined. Then you are seeing CEOs at the top,” said Kevin Walsh, global head of technology consulting at Deloitte.

Why CIOs need to be approachable

The research showed that CIOs recognise that they need to improve their leadership skills if they want to reach for the top, with only 9% of CIOs saying they have all the skills they need to succeed in their organisation.

They identified their biggest gap as the ability to influence internal stakeholders, manage talent in their teams and provide the company with technology vision and leadership.

For a lot of companies, the CIO and CEO roles are going to start blurring. So much of what we do today is technology-driven, CEOs will start to acquire significant data skills or CIOs will be in a position to lead transformation and lead the company
Anand Sahasram, CIO, McGraw-Hill FinancialSource: Deloitte 2015 CIO survey

These skills are vital if CIOs want to assume a leadership role, Mike Brown, vice-president of information technology at ExxonMobil, told Deloitte.

“If you are leading an organisation of 7,000 or 8,000 people, you need to be approachable. If you’re not an effective communicator and speaker, and you are not able to connect with people on multiple levels, you can’t be a leader,” he said.

The survey found that while CIOs had excellent or very good relationships with many C-level executives, many other business relationships needed more attention. Just 20% of UK CIOs, for example, viewed their relationship with the chief digital officer (CDO) as important.

Spending more time with the business

CIOs need to spend more time with their colleagues in other parts of the business to really understand their priorities, the research suggested.

“You can wander in and out of an executive committee, and think that you have a great relationship with someone, but if you don’t actually understand the real challenges they are facing and what you could and should be doing to help them, it’s not going to help,” said Walsh.

Need to nurture a talented IT team

CIOs will also need to nurture and develop a talented IT team in their organisations more effectively. The most effective CIOs know their own strengths and weaknesses, and build balanced teams around them.

“The characteristic of all great leaders is understanding where they are not as strong as they might be, and putting a team together to deal with it,” said Walsh.

The emerging roles of chief technology officer (CTOs) and CDO, for example, do not have to be seen as a threat to CIOs, but could be a complementary part of the team.

Most important leadership skills

Influence with stakeholders; communication skills; understanding strategic business priorities; talent management; technology vision and leadership; ability to lead complex, fast-changing environments.

Source: Deloitte

CIOs’ ability to manage IT talent may have suffered over the past year, following cooling in the relationship between the CIO and the chief HR officer compared to a year ago.

One factor may be the push from HR for better services, as human resource departments seek to replace ageing enterprise resource planning (ERP) HR systems with cloud-based alternatives.

Few CIOs invest sufficient time in coaching, mentoring and training their people, Deloitte’s research suggested.

“You never meet a CIO that has much available time – they are flat out, extremely busy. Sadly, when people are flat out busy, sometimes spending enough time on the people side is a challenge,” said Lillie.

More from Deloitte’s 2015 survey

There is little variation in the key technologies required across industries businesses and geographies. CIOs identify analytics, business intelligence and digital as the top three technologies that will affect their organisations over the next two years.

What makes the difference is how CIOs apply these technologies to their own particular company.

The challenge of keeping up with technology

“One of the challenges that any CIO has is that it is difficult to stay on top of technology – to make the right choices and provide the right advice to a business – when it’s changing so quickly,” said Lillie.

CIOs, he suggested, need to look out to the horizon, see what technologies are influencing their business and their industry, and spend time investing in those.

Findings from Deloitte 2015 CIO survey: UK edition – Creating legacy

Even so, the statistics show that CIOs spend just 16% of their budgets on exploiting new technology, compared with 57% on operations, even though they regard innovation as more important.

One strategy is to exploit existing technology in an innovative way that will bring business benefits. For example, a CIO could equip the field team with handheld devices that enable them to do things they could not do before.

“Someone has to innovate, and if so much of it is technology-based, isn’t the natural place that would happen with the CIO and their leadership team?” said Lillie.

Don’t talk cyborg

One of the biggest complaints from other executives is that too many CIOs talk about technology when they should be talking about business.

“When an IT guy comes in and talks cyborg, that is the end of it. I am looking at the clock,” one executive told Deloitte.

What do today’s CIOs want to leave as their legacy?

Giving back

“I’ve led three people who went on to become CIOs, and there will be more. I develop ‘tweeners’ – hybrids of business people and IT people – and help those people move into leadership”

Wayne Shurts, executive vice-president and CIO, Sysco

“I would like them to remember me as a great Southwest business leader. Not a CIO or a technology leader, but a business leader – someone who was great with people, built a great team and modelled our culture and core values well”

Randy Sloan, senior vice-president and CIO, Southwest Airlines

Helping people be more effective

“My job is to enable the business via technology to get better results and to help the organisation – people and teams – be their best”

Francesco Tinto, vice-president and CIO, Kraft

Making IT matter

“We built trust and credibility through demonstrating the value that the IT organisation brings so we could focus on our objective of becoming trusted partners of our operations teams”

James Vick, senior vice-president, business information systems, SouthWest Energy

Source: Deloitte

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