Fight for leadership roles, CIOs are urged

CIOs face unprecedented challenges and should not be complacent about their contribution to the business, speakers at the IT Directors Forum on the cruise ship Oriana warned last week.

CIOs face unprecedented challenges and should not be complacent about their contribution to the business, speakers at the IT Directors Forum on the cruise ship Oriana warned last week.

Tania Howarth, European CIO at Coca-Cola, told IT directors they had to fight to be strategic change leaders in their organisations while facing constant demands to reduce IT operating costs.

CIOs were operating in a contradictory space, she said, trying to balance the need for 24x7 operations, globalisation and standardisation with the need for local flexibility and strategic innovation.

Simon Linsley, departing director of consultancy, IT and business services at electronics firm Philips, warned that IT directors’ failure to act as strategic business leaders could result in costly mistakes. He cited examples of poorly planned outsourcing and application deployment driven by business leaders who do not have a firm grasp of IT issues.

Colin Simpson, group systems manager at brewer Fuller Smith & Turner, said the ability to deliver strategic leadership for the business was dependent on the ability to run slick systems for the business.

“You need stability through robust operational systems. You have to trust and delegate to people in the technical environment to be able to focus on new activities,” he said.

Christine Ashton, chief information manager for strategy and integration at oil company BP, agreed that innovation rested on a bedrock of existing efficiency.

Although aligning IT with the business was desirable, there was also considerable benefit in separation at times. “This gives IT the opportunity to focus on business process improvement,” she said.

At BP, technical staff in the IT department are seconded to its business process accelerator programme to squeeze more capability out of what has already been delivered, Ashton added.

The challenges highlighted by Howarth, Linsley and other speakers at the forum are a timely reminder to the UK’s corporate IT leaders not to underestimate the scale of the task they face.

Computer Weekly’s CIO Confidence Index, for example, found that 95% of IT directors believed IT was providing more demonstrable value to the business than a year ago and that they would be able to demonstrate even greater returns a year from now.

But this could be tough with IT budgets growing only modestly, according to the UK IT Expenditure survey by Computer Weekly and Kew Associates.

Read article about Seven strategic steps to becoming a strategic change leader 

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