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Friday, 06 November 2020 17:54

Sidelined by the specialists? How can CIOs remain relevant in the 2020s technology landscape?

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As cloud technology, data analytics and cyber-security increasingly dominate the ICT agenda, old school CIOs need to find new ways to add value to the organisations they serve.

GUEST OPINION by Wayson Vannatta, Chief Information Officer at WatchGuard Technologies:Infrastructure, intellectual property and IT security…just a decade ago, the CIO’s role as curator and custodian of the backroom cost centre that was ICT was well defined. So was their place at the top table, where their expertise in what was then an esoteric area of operations went largely unchallenged.

How things have changed. Even as emerging digital technologies have disrupted industries and professions, many CIOs have seen their remits dwindle, as a slew of specialists have stepped onto centre stage.

They include Chief Information Security Officers, Chief Data Officers and Chief Technology Officers.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man (or woman) and, at a time when Australian organisations face rapidly rising threat levels, CISOs now devote themselves full-time to mitigating security and privacy risks; something that used to be one of the many responsibilities of the CIO.

Meanwhile, the collective recognition that analysing company and customer data can be the key to increased sales, productivity and profitability has seen scores of large organisations create a new opening in the leadership team. Enter the CDO, with a remit to oversee the implementation of AI systems and data analytics tools, and manage corporate data governance. Gartner research suggests 75 per cent of large companies will have a CDO by 2021 and that their offices will enjoy similar status as those of CFOs and HR heads.

Toss in the fact that cloud first policies and the as-a-service revolution have removed the responsibility for managing infrastructure from CIOs and handed it to CTOs and it’s no surprise many in the cohort are now questioning their place in the high-tech scheme.

Finding new ways to add value

But thinking laterally about the CIO role can throw up plenty of opportunities for seasoned information chiefs to make a unique and valuable contribution.

The COVID crisis has forced Australian enterprises of all stripes and sizes to re-evaluate almost every aspect of their operations, from staffing to supply chain management and inventory control. Many have made significant changes to their modi operandi – remote working anyone? – and they’ll be forced to make many more, in order to keep up and compete in what are shaping up to be extremely challenging long term economic conditions.

There’ll be a strong need for ‘chief innovation officers’ – ICT leaders who are proactive about spotting creative ways to strengthen the business, from a high-tech perspective. Whether it’s advocating for additional cyber-security provisions to counter the malicious campaign Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned against in June, or slashing the storage bill by migrating to a cloud data warehouse, finding opportunities to cut costs and boost efficiency has never been more important.

‘Chief initiative officers’ – insiders whose deep understanding of business units beyond the IT shop allows them to identify ways in which emerging technologies like AI and machine learning can help the enterprise become leaner and more productive – also have a role to play. To drive such change effectively, it helps for CIOs to position themselves as ‘chief influencing officers’ – experts whose counsel is respected by other leaders across the organisation because they’ve taken the time to understand their challenges and priorities.

Meanwhile, the need for a ‘chief ICT investment officer’ is a perennial one. With budgets under pressure across the board, being able to use solid data to demonstrate the return on investment of proposed projects and initiatives will be key to getting them across the line.

Looking ahead to a fast changing future

Time stands still for no one. The ICT landscape continues to evolve at bewildering speed and old school CIOs must transform their roles and skills apace, if they’re to remain relevant and valued members of the leadership team.


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