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CW500: Skills, changing roles and cloud among key trends for CIOs in 2016

At Computer Weekly’s first CW500 meeting of 2016, CIOs gathered to discuss the role of the CIO, business change, cloud uptake and skills

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Computer Weekly’s first CW500 Club of 2016 brought together key experts to look at trends for the coming year and how the challenges ahead could affect your business.

Albert Ellis, chief executive of recruitment agency Harvey Nash, offered his thoughts on skills and recruitment trends; Ian Cohen, digital adviser at the Leading Edge Forum, talked about CIO leadership challenges; and Spencer Izard, research manager at IDC, gave his views on the impact of digital transformation.

Although cost-cutting and operational efficiencies still weigh heavy on the shoulders of CIOs, emerging technologies and changing the business to respond to customer needs are becoming clear priorities.

As digital continues to be a big buzzword, understanding what it means for your business is an important factor for continuing transformation.

Analysts and researchers have been debating the CIO’s role in digital transformation for a while now, particularly in view of the rise of the chief digital officer (CDO). Last year, Forrester predicted that CDOs are here to stay.

Forrester’s study, Top performers appoint chief data officers, found that more companies and governments are appointing CDOs, with 45% already having one in place and 16% planning to hire one in the next 12 months.

However, a PwC study found that of the global top 1,500 companies, only 6% have a CDO.

Harvey Nash’s Ellis said his agency had recruited more CDOs recently than ever before.

“We have seen the greatest jump in any survey for a senior role like this,” he said, but added that although the role is in demand, it will not stay around for ever.  

Difficult being a CIO

As a former CIO himself, Cohen said it was difficult being a CIO at the moment, with different advice being offered everywhere you turn.

“Everyone’s got an opinion, ranging from the CIO role is over as the chief digital officer is going to replace them, to the CIO being the most important leadership role in the boardroom,” he said.

“Personally, I think the whole thing about the death of the CIO is being overplayed.”

Cohen said organisations sometimes “need a little kick” or a catalyst, which is where a CDO could be required. But he told the audience that CIOs don’t need to worry because “it’s a great time to be a CIO”. However, they need to be “comfortable in their own skin”, he added.

Wizards and magicians

“We now have to be wizards and magicians of the digital age because that’s important, and then we have got to be soothsayers and futurologists because most of our companies don’t really know where they want to go in the first place, so they come to us for advice,” said Cohen.

Gartner has encouraged CIOs to build a bimodal IT strategy, but Cohen called that “guff”, saying it is not about bimodal, but multimodal IT. The one thing that could possibly be bimodal is the CIO, he added.

“There are people in our community who are very comfortable with what they’ve done before and want to repeat it, and there are even people who think that’s a good thing to do,” said Cohen.

He said that although no one had been fired yet for signing large outsourcing contracts with IBM or Accenture, he urged CIOs to look on the other side of the fence to startups and SMEs.

CIOs should look at how to “present themselves as the change agent of an organisation”, said Cohen.

Digital transformation

Izard said IDC research into what business leaders found important had revealed that 66% of businesses were in the process of digital transformation. But he said many organisations “think digital transformation is nice mobile apps for consumers and focused on customer experience” instead of understanding “all the moving parts that need to be done across their organisations”.

Businesses need to get the most out of digital by understanding how to operate their IT functions and where new technologies fit in, said Izard.

“I think the biggest challenge is that organisations are not greenfield. We talk about these transformative technologies, but a lot of organisations need to actually understand all their disparate, separate systems, how they connect to the business channels they have, and then understand all the different types of data hey have,” he said.

Digital transformation is not one big piece of work, said Izard. It includes separate IT projects and separate business changes that “have to come tougher in a cumulative fashion and have to be run in separate segments”.

Read more from the CW500 Club

A technology such as cloud is becoming essential and has moved from being something “new” to being used as an equaliser, he said.

“Cloud is definitely seen now as a big innovator, even in 2016,” said Izard. “It means organisations can tap into compute power and capability they only used to be able to get if they were a large organisation with lots of datacentres and a large IT footprint.”

Also high on Izard’s list of essential technology are data integration, big data and analytics, which are becoming increasingly important and have a huge impact on companies’ business models.

With cyber security threats on the rise, digital security and privacy technologies also make the cut, he said.

New skills

With new technologies come new challenges in skills and recruitment. “It’s the pace of the change that’s taking everybody by surprise,” said Ellis.

Jobs that firms are hiring for today did not exist 10 years ago and there are few university courses or degrees training people in these new technologies, he said.

Giving the example of robotics and automation, which are increasingly important to businesses, Ellis said: “It is creating a challenge because you can’t grow the talent quickly enough to fill the jobs that are being created so fast.

“A lot of software is going into that and we need software developers who know what they are doing in that area. These streams of talent don’t exist – they’re not formally trained in our institutions.

“You have to compete. You can’t grow it and you can’t train it, and there’s a limited supply.”

On a more positive note, Ellis said globalisation and immigration had contributed to new skills and a new workforce being available, and he urged businesses to look elsewhere for new skills.

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