The 30:70 rule for Australian CIOs

Before our CIOs get too caught up on the idea of “flipping to digital leadership" they need to become better business managers.

According to recent Gartner research, Australian chief information officers know they need to change their leadership style to focus on “flipping to digital leadership,” yet many CIOs feel unprepared for the digital onslaught.

That’s because many Australian CIOs and their organisations are not yet positioned for this change. 

CIOs and their IT departments are under extreme pressure to drive innovation and business improvement, but they are hindered by traditional ideas about the role of the IT in the business. Before many Australian CIOs can take Gartner’s advice and flip to digital leadership, what needs to flip is how the organisation views and values the role of the CIO, and that of the IT department, from the top down.

The Gartner research says a digital-first approach is what’s required, but first Australian CIOs must be enabled to be true 'Business Managers'. Fundamentally, the modern role of the CIO should be 30 per cent IT focused and 70 per cent business focused.

We need to stop asking our CIOs and IT departments to simply be technology problem-solvers – which is how many organisations have long relied upon their IT departments – so they can focus on identifying and implementing technology that will bring value to the business.  

Budgets and KPIs need to reflect an organisational interest in technological and digital innovation. Organisations need to support, inspire, recognise and reward technology superstars who help find new revenue streams, truly leverage the benefits of the cloud or integrate processes and platforms to enable the business to run more effectively and competitively.

Seat at the strategy table

Organisations need to include the CIO in the process, when strategy is being set rather than after the fact. Stop discussing what’s wrong, broken or needs to be upgraded, and talk about what each department and the business as a whole is trying to accomplish over the coming years, so the CIO and IT can source the technology to achieve it effectively, with speed, agility and scalability.

Let’s consider business growth. Rather than giving the IT department one-quarter’s notice to scale up existing technology to enter a new market, include them much earlier in the process. Give the CIO and IT department the leeway to assess and determine if perhaps changes to the company’s underlying technology approach can propel the company into new markets and new revenue streams.

What about the masses of unstructured data organisations have to deal with? Corporate data is predicted to grow by 800 per cent by 2016, with 80 per cent of it unstructure. Rather than expecting the IT department to store more and more data and find it when its needed, the CIO and IT team should be part of the process of identifying useful data. Then they can support business decisions with the technology to analyse, track, sort and apply the data to grow and benefit the business.

They don’t need to do this in isolation, and certainly can and will be supported by the expertise of consultants, IT vendors, cloud and other IT specialists. But they do need to be able to accurately represent and consider the needs, objectives and challenges of their business – from a whole-of-business perspective, not a technology fix perspective – in order to get the most from technology and technology suppliers alike.

Gartner’s research tells us 35 per cent of Australian and New Zealand CIOs report directly to their CEO, and that 42 per cent have a deputy or similar assistance to help run the day-to-day of the IT department.

That’s encouraging. CIOs need to be supported from the top, and inspired to take that 'Business Manager' view of the business.

Shane Lyell is director of Cloud Consulting Services at Melbourne-based technology solutions integrator, service provider and Cloud specialist, Envisian. 

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