CIOs move towards becoming business value drivers

The CIO role is evolving beyond that of being a technical problem solver, to becoming a strategic business value driver. However, CIOs themselves need to take the lead in entrenching themselves as agents of change for business.

This emerged during a round table discussion among Professional Chief Information Officers (Pr.CIOs) hosted by the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA). Pr.CIO® is a designation awarded only to CIOs with the highest levels of qualifications and experience, is endorsed by the CIO Council of South Africa, is IFIP IP3 accredited (SFIA level 7) and is also SAQA registered. Only 24 CIOs have been awarded this prestigious designation since the IITPSA introduced it three years ago.

The round table, held under the Chatham House Rule, provided a forum for the CIOs to share their experiences freely.

Leading the discussion, Terence Govender, CIO of Phambili IT and Co-owner of Change Dimensions, said the role of the CIO had evolved from what it was in the 1990s, when the CIO was essentially an IT manager or head of department focused on delivering predictable and reliable IT services and processes, managing and bringing IT assets together and enabling connectivity and hardware.

“Today, it’s almost a given that services should run. The CIO role has matured into driving and unlocking value, and being a change evangelist. IT is now so integral to business, and organisations, and CEOs are becoming more tech savvy and seeing the value that CIOs and CTOs deliver. We are starting to be the driver of strategic change in the business, and we’re starting to see far more CIOs reporting directly to the CEO, sitting at the strategic table and not only at the MANCO/execution table,” he said.

“We’re moving away from being the custodians of technology to being value creators and enablers. Going forward, we are going to become change evangelists. We are going to drive change because so much hinges on the technology, which sits in our circle of influence.”

Govender noted that CIOs needed to grow their understanding of business in order to be effective in adding value: “CIOs must understand the business and how the technology will advance the strategy. The better you understand the business, where value is being created and where it is being destroyed, the more they are going to embrace you.”

One participant observed that he saw the CIO role expanding beyond technical areas. “Sometimes I wonder if I’m a CIO or a COO, because a lot of the work I’m picking up now is not technical in nature, and some of the technical work has moved into other areas of business, with IT just consulting and assisting. It’s not just about CIOs being value drivers, it’s about how we work with our peers to get value for the organisation.”

Value creation as a governance focus

An IT Governance advisor and CIO, noted that the focus on value creation in the CIO role aligns with developments in the corporate governance space. “Value generation is now a corporate governance principle for the board. However, she noted: “Before you have a strategy you need to understand your value generation objectives per stakeholder grouping. CIOs need to do the same. We should identify our various stakeholders and the value we intend generating for them, and align ourselves with that. That’s more practical than just saying we need to be a value driver – we need to define and co-create value with our stakeholders.”

Influencing change

Another Pr.CIO said CIOs would not be effective in driving strategic change unless there was organisational maturity. CIOs themselves needed to influence this, he said: “The maturity of your role can be measured by looking at your ability to influence strategy for your organisation. Change management is important, because regardless of what we do, at the end of the day it’s about people. Without change management and the ability to affect the right people, change won’t happen.”

He added: “In many organisations, the push towards a plausible digital transformation strategy is pushing the role of the CIO to becoming not just a digital transformation evangelist, but more of a digital transformation visionary. They are taking the knowledge that comes with business experience and being able to combine the technologies that facilitate change in an organisation to either find efficiencies or new product ranges, or mature the business – potentially into something it was not in the past.”

Coming out of the shadows

IT were the heroes during the pandemic and were not going to take kindly to going ‘back into the shadows and the basement server rooms’, participants said.

A Pr.CIO and business founder noted: “People are still worried about keeping the lights on and the CIO is always the one in the meeting seen as the ‘IT guy’, so that has to be part of it. The CIO must demonstrate complete mastery of the IT domain, so you can say ‘we got all of this stuff working, does everybody believe now that we can move on to the next step?’ You need to use this to buy your seat at the table.”

However, he noted that the CIO also needed to have a sound understanding of finance, politics and changing trends in the broader environment.

“One thing that’s almost universal among IT and CIOs is that we are all problem solvers and that’s what people expect of us. This is a handicap, and it is the reason why people still expect the CIO to carry out tasks like fixing screens during a board meeting. If we are seen as problem solvers rather than problem eliminators or business pivoters, things won’t change.”

Another Pr.CIO added: “Organisational maturity and the evolving role of the CIO has a lot to do with the organisation and the industry you’re in, but it also depends on the individual. You, as the CIO, can influence where you’re going to. Our role is to make sure that business knows what your IT organisation can bring to the table and that you establish your credibility as both a business leader and an IT leader.

We have an excellent understanding of business processes and the underlying data and therefore can greatly contribute to business discussions. We should therefore engage and shape and not only react and enable,” she said.

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