When Bull recently asked 150 CIOs what they thought about their role and the challenges they faced, we were shocked by some of the replies. Only nine per cent said that they have the freedom to set their own agenda in their current job - and only an equally low number believed they had any influence on decisions made about IT at board level.
But when we considered these results more closely, the reasons became clear. While many CEOs don't appreciate the importance of an IT strategy that mirrors their business, CIOs often struggle to link technology with business strategy.
This led us to think about exactly what CIOs need to do to reverse this situation. We decided that there were five key areas which will drive business success and if CIOs want to re-claim their influence, they are well worth considering:
1. The right talent: While it's currently important that a business has enough technical staff to "keep the lights on" regarding existing and legacy infrastructure, cloud technology is diminishing this need. The cloud means less focus on managing an infrastructure and staff need to refocus on managing third-party relationships. It will be quite a leap for some dyed-in-the-wool techies and some may decide not to reskill. If so, CIOs need to assess how to attract the right level of talent to use the cloud to differentiate their business.
2. The right development: Increasingly businesses are training employees to be more proactive and to drive innovation rather than just deliver a service from 9 to 5. Of course, this isn't the direct responsibility of a CIO, but they do need to play their part in the process by insisting that their teams develop and update their skills on a regular basis. They need to pick up on this new attitude and have the vision to deploy new technologies to support it.
3. The rise of customer power: CIOs don't always see themselves as customer-facing. However, the latest disruptive business models are making it simpler for customers to change their loyalties and this should concern every employee, let alone a senior director. Customers these days hold the power and keeping them happy is critical. The move to the cloud and the rise in big data strategies play a major role in enabling businesses to do this.
4. Looking long-term: Established companies are learning about flexibility from fast-growing start-ups. Yet, it's essential not to only focus on short-term goals and develop a strategic view of how the business and markets are likely to develop over the next three to five years. These days businesses need to continuously develop their propositions and their delivery capability to match what the market expects and what customers want. Again a CIO can play a pivotal role in achieving these goals.
5. Communicate the vision: This links the four key areas above. The workforce wants and needs to be regularly updated on performance, incentives, new customer wins and the part they themselves can play in areas such as "turning customers into fans", for example. They want to feel engaged and empowered within the business so that they can contribute to its ultimate success.
CIOs make it their job to know about today's rapidly changing technologies. But they need to also recognise that these are driving a change of business role. There are other areas for consideration too; the need to keep accelerating time to market and the efficient delivery of innovative new products, for example.
However, it's my opinion that CIOs could make a start by focusing on the five business areas above. If they do and Bull decides to conduct another survey in a few years' time, that 9 per cent just might be converted to 90.