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Successful CIOs in 2017 will be those who look outwards

CEOs increasingly want IT leaders who can look outside the IT department and improve wider perceptions of the organisation

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Successful IT leaders in 2017 will be those who look outwards – both outside the IT department and beyond their own organisation, to learn the lessons of digital transformation.

While CIOs continue to face a long list of technology challenges – from security to cloud to the structure of the IT team – their job is increasingly influenced by the way they are perceived outside of their traditional environment, according to experts.

“It’s hard for anybody in a senior leadership position in a large organisation to dedicate time to look outside, but when leaders really take the time to look not only at what people are doing in their own industry, but what people are doing in other industries, there are real lessons to be learned,” said Neil Ward-Dutton, research director at analyst MWD Advisors, speaking to IT chiefs at Computer Weekly’s January CW500 Club event, which examined IT priorities for the next 12 months.

“Anything that leaders can do to get out of their own operating environment and try to understand how to transfer lessons from other sectors is a very profitable time, well spent,” he said.

Forward-thinking IT leaders are even looking to techniques from marketing and PR to boost the role of technology across the business, especially as digital transformation puts IT ever closer to the customer.

“Some of the very progressive IT leaders I speak to – and people smile when I mention this – a lot of them are employing brand managers and PR consultants to give them insight into how to better represent themselves in a business context,” Spencer Izard, chief analyst in the enterprise advisory team at Ovum, told the CW500 event.

“CIOs are looking to elevate themselves to have a much more active front-facing role on CxO advisory boards. The technology, actually, is something that will flow after that.”

Attracting the best talent

Chris Chandler, head of executive search at recruitment firm La Fosse Associates, said skills shortages in key areas such as digital, agile and software engineering mean the public image of a company can be critical for attracting the best talent into IT.

“Creating the right brand for an employer is really important now. If you’re looking for a number of engineers to join you, for example, the best thing is not to make them wear suits,” he said.

If you hire a great technologist into a company that might otherwise not be associated with that, it turns heads
Chris Chandler, La Fosse Associates

Furthermore, some companies are looking for IT leaders who bring a high profile and, as such, are able to attract the best people to work for them – and to help improve perceptions of the organisation itself.

“We are beginning to see certain organisations dive into a marquee hire – almost as a loss leader. They are over-spending on someone who is genuinely exceptional – someone who can speak eloquently at events and who has a natural following behind them,” said Chandler.

“By hiring this sort of ‘supreme being’, you can immediately recruit a number of people very easily behind them. Some of the best hires you can make at an executive level will do most of the recruitment for you thereafter.

“Companies are doing this not just as a tool for future recruitment, but also for marketing and PR – if you hire a great technologist into a company that might otherwise not be associated with that, it turns heads. There are examples of CIOs and CTOs being hired where the share price has been affected.”

An abundance of resources

But for all the benefits of being an outward-looking individual with a public profile, IT leaders still need to be aware of how the latest trends affect the management of technology in their organisation.

“There is a fundamental shift taking place from managing a scarcity of resources – computing, storage, networking – to a model where we have abundance and where the cost of these things is essentially falling to zero,” said Ward-Dutton.

“This really enables a fundamentally different way to think about how to invest, manage and govern technology, and it’s one that many people aren't really prepared for,” he said.

According to Ward-Dutton, this change means IT leaders have to adapt their way of thinking about technology delivery.

“Many CIOs were educated in the 1980s and grew up when resources were scarce. Every fibre of their being was about how you don’t waste stuff. It’s a fundamentally different way of going about things and it requires a very significant shift in mindset that tech leaders are going to have to figure out how to embrace,” he said.

“You have to optimise the way you do things to embrace uncertainty – that is a very significant change. Many leaders in tech are used to imposing structure on things. We have to unlearn those practices and embrace more uncertain, collaborative, explorative and dynamic ways of working.”

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CEOs are also looking for CIOs to take on a different responsibility, said Chandler.

“We are looking for people [for our clients] who are driving not just capability and skillset in the tech department, but outside of that as a spokesperson. CEOs are looking for CIOs to take on responsibility for driving digital literacy across a whole organisation,” he said.

Engaging with business

Ovum’s Izard said the core technology priorities for 2017 haven’t changed from 2016, but the way the IT team is expected to engage with their business colleagues continues to be a big driver of change for tech leaders.

“From a technology operational perspective, IT organisations are trying to understand the pace and cadence of their business functions. Then, it’s about how do they tailor service delivery to how the business needs to consume it, rather than using more traditional IT delivery,” he said.

“The technology is an easily quantifiable thing to put your hands around. For most IT leaders, it’s more about the organisational structure. Does the IT function continue as it’s been traditionally run? Is it fit for purpose any longer to meet the digital agenda of an organisation? What does that then mean for talent acquisition, for improving the skills of existing employees, and striking the right balance between digitally focused IT supporting roles and traditional IT roles?”

But, ultimately, IT chiefs still need to deliver IT – and to lead the digital transformation of their organisation.

“A big focus continues to be improving customer experience. But it doesn’t matter how good a customer experience is if it”s not supported by a rich business analytics and information backbone. You’ll never truly realise the value of digital without that,” said Izard.

“There’s a big journey for a lot of organisations that are still wrestling with optimal sourcing models. The abundance of cloud products and different companies makes it a complicated market for the CIO to navigate and to get good deals.

“It’s always about business outcomes. There should be no technology decision made in your organisation that isn’t directly supporting or feeding a business outcome.”

In-demand IT skills for 2017 – and who is hiring them

According to Chris Chandler, head of executive search at recruitment firm La Fosse Associates, the skills that are most in demand for 2017 are around DevOps, agile, software engineering, cyber security and data science.

“DevOps is something that we’ve seen seeded in 2016 and it’s going mainstream for most organisations by 2018 – 2017 is going to see that flourish, along with agile,” he said.

“Areas such as fast in-house engineering and full-stack developers on the mobile and desktop side are going to be massive skills in demand for this year, and are hugely in short supply.

“Security is hugely on the agenda. The type of chief information security officer (CISO) being hired is deeply technical but can operate at a senior level. When you are hacked – and you know what, people are going to get hacked, that’s not going to change – they want CISOs that are going to be there on the ground among the weeds dealing with that quickly.”

Retailers and financial services providers are leading the demand for DevOps, software engineers and security experts. Media firms are also looking for people with creative skills in virtual and augmented reality development.

Companies in manufacturing and business services – some of which have been slower to adopt digital transformation – also need skills in mobility and are seeking IT chiefs with experience in managing offshore development.

At a senior level, IT leaders need to be able to demonstrate experience of innovating with technology to disrupt the business – and, increasingly, firms are looking for people with experience in a tech startup environment, said Chandler.

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