It's time to take a stand
In the face of line-of-business scepticism, CIOs must assert their positions as business enablers
It's common wisdom that, in this age of pervasive technology, CIOs need to be involved in business strategy. Indeed, that's the reason why there's a spot for the IT head in the C-suite. But you'd be surprised at how many businesses still view IT as a support centre, and little more.
The point was discussed at our recent conference, ACN Investigates, a new series of events aimed at taking a deep dive into specific topics around IT. The day focused on how IT can help businesses maintain, and improve, customer experience. And, naturally, discussions invariably lead to the point that, for IT to really help, IT leaders need an even stake in the board room. Unfortunately, at least one of the panel members pointed out that IT is too-often see as a line of support, and not as a business driver.
This came as something of a surprise to me - perhaps the CIOs I've met have been lucky in that they get a lot of buy-in from their business heads. But, having poked around a little, it seems that the problem is more widespread than people like to admit - and that's true inside and outside of the Middle East. A recent Gartner survey of CEOs found that only 17% view the CIO as the first, second, or third choice partner when it comes to long-term strategic decisions. By far the most popular partner for the CEO was the CFO (40%) - a fact that hardly bodes well for IT departments globally.
And this is despite constant warnings from analysts, the technology press, and even vendors, that CIOs need to have a stake in long-term business decisions - after all, for just about every company, technology is becoming a major point of differentiation. So why aren't CEOs listening?
It could be down to the fact that CEOs and CFOs work so closely together. Perhaps it's all too easy for CEOs to allow themselves to be constrained by the budgets set out by their financially minded counterparts. Perhaps they allow themselves to view IT as a cost centre, an organisation that allows the business to tick over, but little else.
Naturally, we all know that theory to be hogwash. Every month, forward-thinking organisations are featured in this magazine, and we cover them because they're using technology to drive better business. To think that IT can't further your own business is just nonsensical.
Unfortunately, this message doesn't seem to be getting through to business leaders, so it seems like it's falling to the CIO to make the case for technology adoption. In the Gartner report mentioned above, Steve Prentice, vice president and Gartner fellow, laid out how CIOs should go about doing this.
"For CIOs to be seen as key contributors and advisors regarding the changes and disruptions that technology brings, they must seriously assess their position internally," he said.
"They should position themselves as informed and objective innovators who understand the disruptive role technology will play in business over the next 10 to 20 years, and who can make an essential contribution to long-term and very long-term planning activities within their organisation."
That's easier said than done, but it's certainly time to take a stand against the outdated assumption that IT is just a cost centre.