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As CIOs look at planning their career strategy for the year ahead, organisations will be increasingly looking for executives that are able to influence and persuade rather than manage and control, according to experts.
A key theme in 2018, which will continue throughout next year, is that success for CIOs will not be about technology on its own, their job title, or the budgets they manage. According to CIO practice director at Harvey Nash UK, Natalie Whittlesey, the key skill an IT leader will need to display is influence.
“If they can work with a varied set of stakeholders and an even more varied base of digital assets, and bring them together into single view that drives the business, then their skillset is going to be highly valued,” Whittlesey tells Computer Weekly.
Over the past 12 months, the recruitment expert has observed that employers are looking for people who can bring ideas in from outside the sector and build partnerships with organisations including large tech giants, small entrepreneurial tech startups and universities – these ecosystems are designed to feed technology ideas into the business.
“Tech leaders cannot possibly constantly keep ahead of every technology advancements, so they need to build open relationships with their teams and partners,” says Whittlesey, adding that CIOs remain under pressure to create an innovation environment, while ensuring this isn’t at the expense of the existing technology landscape.
The recruitment expert observes that those who build relationships with recruitment partners and former co-workers will be able to demonstrate their softer, non-technical skills more effectively.
“Many of our placed candidates are people we’ve got to know well through coffees grabbed in cafes, meetings over Skype or catch-ups at events. Likewise, people who are well connected with prior colleagues, who can bring them in to new organisations, will do well,” she says.
Key skills employers are asking for cited by the Harvey Nash director include evidence of bringing in innovation that’s had a direct impact on a business, evidence of handling a complex stakeholder base often spanning geographical boundaries and multiple brands, as well as being commercially minded – which increases ability to talk business to the board.
There’s increasing investment in tech pilots, usually followed by failing or scaling. People with great contacts, an externally facing approach, and the ability to see concepts through to delivery quickly are sought after.
The year of the customer
It has long been the case that the role has become more business and customer focused, but Whittlesey has been witnessing a transformation of the role, in some cases taking it beyond traditional job titles such as CIO or IT director.
From the interactions she’s had with technology decision makers, and having conducted many recruitment processes, the Harvey Nash director concludes 2018 was all about the customer and that will remain the case in the coming year. She adds that this is perhaps in recognition that an “all or nothing” enterprise-wide digital strategy is proving hard to achieve.
That has meant organisations have focused their digital resources on improving the technology at the customer’s service and turning to the technology leader – whatever their title – to understand the demands from the customer and provide the answer in terms of IT-based products or services.
“It’s about taking the lead from the outside and responding, rather than taking internal technology, processes and so on then expecting the customer to adapt,” Whittlesey says.
In some cases, says Whittlesey, the customer (or future-focused) side of the technology leadership role is splitting away from the operational side of tech completely. In that scenario, CIOs will have to be one step ahead of their non-tech peer group, who are often tech-savvy, and be the first to identify new technologies and assess their application to the business. “Our advice is to be aware and be ahead,” she adds.
Usually, customer-focused initiatives are part of a wide digital transformation plan. According to the recruitment executive, CIOs won’t be compelling for clients with transformation programmes unless they have evidence of delivering these already, or playing a major role in the delivery of such projects.
“The delivery of multi-channel solutions that are intuitive, automate and streamline processes, and make effective use of data, are key. Implementation and adoption of digital collaboration tools is sought after,” says Whittlesey.
When it comes to innovations supporting digital plans,she says that experience with projects related to the internet of things (IoT) that provide meaningful information and deliver real benefits to the business and customers is something organisations are asking for.
In addition, there is growing demand for skills related to artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain. Despite the fact that adoption of both technologies is very low – blockchain, for instance, is currently limited to particular segments such as financial services and supply chain – Whittlesey says there is a sense that both have the potential for expansive growth, with many interested in how an IT leader can help their organisation realise the potential from these technologies.
“We may see technology leaders increasingly having to make the binary choice between back-office IT, as in systems and infrastructure running in a secure fashion, or future-looking technology. These are two very different careers,” she says.
Read more about issues facing CIOs
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- Following its free-trade agreement with the EU – and the contrast with its noisy neighbour – Canada is promoting its tech sector to European IT buyers. We take a look at what CIOs can expect.
- Harvey Nash/KPMG survey shows CIOs are looking to boost their IT teams, but US and UK immigration rules may block their plans.