I've been looking at the five key areas that look set to drive business success over the next few years and then considering how chief information officers (CIO) can use these to carve themselves out a more pivotal and sustainable role within their organisation.
So far I've considered the need for technical teams to be retrained to become more commercially aware and the role CIOs can play in enabling the workforce, ensuring they develop their skills on an ongoing basis. I've also discussed how IT departments must win the loyalty of their customers - both external and internal. After this I will link all these issues and look at the need to communicate the vision.
But first I would like to explore the need for businesses to think about the long-term - and what can be done to ensure a business will be relevant to the market not just now, but also in three to five years' time.
If a business is currently trading, it's reasonable to presume that it must have some relevance to today's market. It's therefore tempting to carry on doing the same thing and make the most of current conditions. This tendency is encouraged in sectors which are target or KPI driven or when there's a need for fast profits to make up for past losses. The nature of most reward schemes and the fast turnaround of senior managers when targets aren't met are further disincentives to think long term. Senior executives are forced to put more emphasis on the immediate future, looking to a 12 month horizon, rather than planning further ahead.
Today, the most successful businesses are those that turn their customers into fans. And to achieve this loyalty an organisation needs to remain relevant and responsive to a customer over a period of time. To do this it needs to be constantly developing its proposition and its capability to match what the market wants and customers expect.
The first thing for CIOs to take into account is the cloud. In my view, in three to five years businesses should be running most of their IT systems, if not all, through a cloud model. It may be that legacy applications or the sensitivity of data held makes this difficult. But by then, the majority of commoditised and industrialised IT capability should be bought from a third-party cloud provider.
This will have a significant impact on the role of the CIO. Much of their responsibility for ensuring an organisation's IT systems are running smoothly will disappear overnight as support and maintenance of servers, upgrades and other tasks will be carried out by these cloud providers. But instead of regarding this as a negative development, CIOs need to turn it around by being proactive about managing these suppliers and linking IT to business strategy.
This is being helped by the emergence of big data analysis. Its growing importance is timely for CIOs;
because of the integration of legacy and new systems, they are well-placed to drive its use and indeed, to evangelise about its value throughout the business.
Using data analysis tools, and in many cases the capacity of the cloud to enable quick heavy-duty number crunching, they will be able to amalgamate complex data sets. They can 'mash-up' historical data about how customers have behaved in the past with predictive data developed from social media and other emotional indicators. From this they can reach a good idea of what customers' expectations will be in three to five years' time.
This can then be delivered to the appropriate teams to build propositions and commercial models in line with this information. In working with departmental teams such as marketing and helping them address their pains, CIOs and their teams will be playing their own part in generating business now and in the future.
It's a big step for any CIO that still considers that their main role is to 'keep the lights on' for their company. However, by grabbing the opportunity to encourage a long-term view, they are also protecting their own future. And are ensuring they don't just survive, but actually thrive in their new lynchpin position within the company.