The CIO's role in business transformation

The importance of transformational change in business has long been recognised, but it is particularly pertinent at the moment. In the public sector, great emphasis is now placed on integration and efficiency, and this was further reinforced by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's 10-year vision, called The Future of Local Government.

The importance of transformational change in business has long been recognised, but it is particularly pertinent at the moment. In the public sector, great emphasis is now placed on integration and efficiency, and this was further reinforced by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's 10-year vision, called The Future of Local Government.

In many organisations, IT is at the forefront of transformational processes. Unfortunately, this has resulted in many well-publicised failures. Often, it is not the technology that fails, but rather a failure of management to take advantage of new IT systems. As a result, many organisations discount the potential for IT to transform business.

There is frequently limited sharing of knowledge in relation to factors affecting the success and failure of change initiatives. In some organisations, each transformation initiative seems to be undertaken according to standards set by the leader of that particular initiative.

This approach should be avoided at all costs, as each new transformational initiative then becomes an adventure into the unknown.

Increasingly, the responsibility for change falls under the control of a chief transformation officer. This role will often involve all the aspects of creating the organisations of tomorrow: programme office, strategy development, IT development, etc. Many of these tasks demand consultation and interaction with senior management.

Change and transformation management has been thoroughly researched over the years. Numerous methodologies have been proposed to achieve successful transformation, and in essence, common themes recur.

The first four elements are centred on developing an agreed change portfolio. The remaining six elements are involved with the detailed planning, delivery and review of the change initiatives.

Research by Cranfield suggests that these six elements are necessary, but they are insufficient in themselves to deliver the critical benefits. Realisation of these benefits is more closely associated with the formulation of an agreed change portfolio.

The importance of these tasks raises the question of who aligns, prioritises and coordinates the portfolio of business-change initiatives. Who is responsible for creating organisational readiness for change? Who ensures that adequate business-change resources are allocated to each initiative?

The UK has seen a rise in the number of transformational roles, particularly in the public sector. So what are the core competencies of such roles? Would a CIO be well positioned to fulfil such a role?

At first glance, the skills required for a transformational role and for a CIO appear similar. Co-ordination of a variety of initiatives is central to both, as is the need to understand and act in a political manner.

Given the continuing drive towards IT outsourcing, many CIOs are already focusing on demand management. Some would suggest that CIOs are already undertaking this transformation role in content, if not in title.

If this is occurring, it may well satisfy an aspiration cited by some CIOs to become a permanent member of the board, rather than the usual arrangement of being summoned as required.

However, some might ask why an organisation would want to promote an individual to a wider role when the IT products they currently deliver are subject to such criticism. Perhaps this perception of failure is in part caused by the restrictions of the CIO's role maybe a wider remit would increase the benefits gained from IT change.

So what are the options for the CIO wishing to embrace transformational change? One option is to become the organisation's transformative officer, a "superstar" role with a board position. Another option is to become a supporting act in managing a collection of outsourcers working for the organisation's chief transformation officer.

Some of today's CIOs would choose the former and some may be required to become the latter. These speculations are embryonic, but early indications suggest that such scenarios are becoming reality in many organisations.

● Chris Edwards is professor of management information systems and Rob Lambert is a senior lecturer at the Cranfield School of Management, Cranfield University

Elements of change

Portfolio formulation

● Engender and reinforce a culture of continuous change

● Understand the drivers and content of each change initiative at an early stage in the lifecycle

● Align and filter initiatives to the strategic goals, thus creating the change portfolio

● Harmonise strategic leaders to support the change portfolio

Programme execution

● Develop a detailed business case and obtain approval/refusal

● Establish accountability and governance for each initiative

● Execute each change initiative and realise the intended benefits

● Manage the ongoing initiative portfolio, conflict, resources and other inter-dependencies

● Coordinate the elements of the change capability

● Review, learn and improve the change capability

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