Fujitsu CTO and CIO Tsuneo Kawatsuma, management guru Seth Godin, CIO headhunter Martha Heller and other thought leaders on the career-defining challenges for today’s CIOs.
As companies assess the threats and opportunities of digital disruption, their CIOs need to move far beyond their traditional function of provisioning technology and services to the business — they must become guides through the new all-digital landscape.
That’s the clear consensus among the dozen thought leaders interviewed by I-CIO during 2014 on the evolving position of IT leaders within business.
“The role of IT is becoming more and more strategic,” highlights Oliver Bussmann, group CIO of Swiss banking giant UBS. “And to manage through digital disruption the CIO has to be in the driver’s seat.”
Such an elevated role is recognized in circles outside of IT too. “The essential role of the CIO going forward is not to ask things like ‘What pile of data do you need in which part of the cloud?,’” says management guru and business author Seth Godin. “The essence of the job today is the ability to discern what is changing, to figure out where the [business and technology] threads come together.”
Indeed, IT now plays such a central role in most organizations that the direct involvement of the CIO in strategic decision-making is a business imperative. “From this point onwards the systems division is going to be responsible for making business innovation happen,” argues Tsuneo Kawatsuma, CTO and CIO at global ICT company Fujitsu.
New CIO-CEO relationship
That points to a fundamental shift in the historical position of IT leaders within the C-suite, with CEOs and other executives increasingly looking to them to guide digital strategy, he maintains. “The CEO and CIO will work in tandem to make innovation happen,” says Kawatsuma, with the CEO determining the direction for the company and the CIO showing the optimal routes in which digital innovation can take it.
Someone who understands that scenario from both sides is Jeroen Tas, the former CIO of Dutch consumer electronics and healthcare systems company Philips and now CEO for its Philips Healthcare Informatics business. “IT plays a critical role, not just in creating digital propositions but in ensuring the whole value chain — from the supply chain to customer feedback loops into product development — is adjusted to customers.”
A prerequisite for that is an always-on, connected, real-time platform that allows the business to optimize, he argues. “That’s a tremendous opportunity for every CIO to really start doing stuff that has impact on customers and people rather than just [running] the back office of the company.”
That makes the ‘ownership’ of IT projects a moot point. Renowned US CIO headhunter Martha Heller believes many heads of IT find themselves in the tricky position of being accountable for project success even when the business has taken ownership of the IT project. “To help them solve that accountability-versus-ownership paradox, CIOs need to operationalize their uniquely horizontal view of the business, use alliance-building skills, have the leadership and courage to reach beyond their specific technology domain to get the CEO’s backing, and, ultimately, to drive business transformation — whether you have been anointed to do so or not.”
Transformation is something that Bussmann feels is evident at UBS, but only as a result of actively pursuing integration with the business. “The relationship between business and IT is absolutely critical for the success and brand of the IT organization. Driving communication, collaboration, engagement, transparency — and excitement — between the two organizations is critical.”
For many CIOs that means creating a solid blend of IT and business teams. “We insist that people responsible for business are part of the teams that design and deliver IT solutions,” says Philips’s Tas. “They have to be truly collaborating, working as one team because they have common goals.” And that is a huge step forward, he underlines: “IT doesn’t make sense unless it’s firmly part of a vision of where you are taking the business.”