IT and Business Integration


The CMO and CIO relationship discussion has been raging for months, and there is a growing perspective that IT budget ownership will shift from IT to the business. Add to this the growing list of new executive roles, and the role of CIO could look very different in the near future. I recently participated in a panel discussion on this topic at a CIO Summit attended by over 40 CIOs. I was somewhat surprised by several of the answers provided by the CIO panel, as well as those provided to poll questions posed during the session. It would indicate that those raging discussions about IT and business integration are unfounded. I thought I’d get a different perspective from someone with one of those new executive titles, so I interviewed Heidi Schwende, a Chief Digital Officer with WSI World. The following are her thoughts on similar questions.

Frank: Are CIOs becoming closer aligned to their CXO peers, or has the gap never been wider?

Heidi: I’d have to say that the gap has never been wider and here’s why I think that. The Society for Information Management conducted an IT Trends survey in 2013. The findings astounded me. What was of most concern to those CIOs surveyed was the prioritization of process for IT projects – really? Projects? Just as surprising was what they saw as least important; the alignment of IT with the business. I think this is cause for concern and is likely a good example of what’s contributing to the widening chasm between CIOs and the rest of the C-Suite. This tactical and operational focus is, in my opinion, an antiquated one and CIOs need to become more attuned to the strategic needs of the business from a technology standpoint. With the magnitude of information and technology for competitive differentiation, the CIO needs to become much more entrenched in business strategy elaboration. On the same token, their CXO peers need to let them in so to speak, and they most assuredly need to shift their own perceptions of the role. Overall though, I believe a higher level of digital literacy in the C-Suite is mandatory and it needs to happen without delay.

Frank: Is IT viewed unfairly by the business? What will it take to change opinions?

Heidi: To some degree or another I do suppose this is true, and I don’t believe it’s totally unfounded either. For the reasons I mentioned earlier, IT has been way too caught up in the tactical and operational for some time now and that has to change.  To be fair though, there’s a bit of a tug of war going on that we can’t overlook either. New C-Suite roles are popping up all the time, and personally I don’t quite understand how they can be seen as indispensable. We of course have our usual CEO, CIO, CFO, COO and CMO roles. But what I really question is the trend of creating all the newfangled CXO titles. Turn a pyramid on its head and it’ll inevitably topple I say.

Some recent examples of these new roles are the Chief Security Officer, or the Chief Data Officer, or even the Chief Social Media Officer. I mean really, how many CXO jobs do we really need? As an example let’s look at the CIO role for a second.  Doesn’t it just make sense that the CIO should handle issues of security and big data? Or that the CMO should handle social media?

One of the new CXO roles that I do advocate for is the Chief Digital Officer. This is a role that I think is a critical one and truly is the only new C-suite role that’s viable. The digital age is upon us and companies need to be swift in keeping up with a) changing technology and b) addressing changes in consumer behavior, both of which now have enormous implications on business strategy.

Moreover, I think the CDO and CIO need to multiparty. In fact they should come together and create their own integrated team. And, they ought to exercise their influence with their peers concurrently. Just creating more CXO jobs isn’t a reasonable riposte to what’s been happening with IT, in fact, I submit that creating too many of them will only contribute to further fragmentation within the enterprise, not to mention the inevitable overlaps that we already know lead to toxicity.

Frank: Shadow IT is a growing phenomenon, with the business procuring IT services without the knowledge of the CIO: should this be stopped, and how?

Heidi: There’s no shortage of opinions on the topic of shadow IT. Personally, I’m not an advocate and I don’t think any CIO should be complacent in the face of it. At a time when we’re all getting a handle on big data, security storage, protocols, identity management, access, encryption, data-loss prevention et al, it makes me shudder to think of all the risk associated with this practice. I’d even go as far as to say that it’s foolhardy to let it go on.

The CIO should take a good hard look at all the reasons Shadow IT is happening in the first place. No doubt there is some shared blame, however, I do think that it’s incumbent upon IT to find, propose and influence its eradication.

From my perspective, security is the number one concern. And with security being incumbent, again in my opinion, upon the CIO and not a chief security officer, IT should be addressing the issue head on with some solid policy elaboration pronto.

Frank: How can the CIO influence their CXO colleagues to better effect (i.e. being viewed as an enabler, not an obstacle, to business success)? Is informal collaboration the answer, or is a whole new operating model required? How do you ensure your voice is heard?

Heidi: In answer to this question, I think the solution will vary from one business to the next. But generally speaking I do think that there is likely and largely a new operating model required. There are some initial steps that can be taken immediately though.

Frankly, I don’t think this should be a hard sell at all unless the CIO has been rendered virtually powerless strategically speaking. I think the first place to start is with the security issue. If the CIO can show the very clear and present danger of engaging in Shadow IT to the rest of the C-Suite, I don’t see how the facts would ever be ignored.

But there is another area in which the CIO can effect change from within IT that will be a longer change process. Taking a good hard look at how responsive IT is to changing business needs in areas like Bring Your Own Device and Social Media; LinkedIn, Google My Business, Twitter, Facebook and so on. Or even in the areas of SaaS applications like Office 365, Google Hangouts, Dropbox or iCloud. I think it would go a very long way in to fostering and building that position of IT as a business enabler.

In a survey by Frost & Sullivan’s Stratecast group earlier this year, it was revealed that more than 80% of respondents admitted to using non-approved SaaS applications as part of their day-to-day business activities. This is a frightening statistic.

Many have even said they were planning to increase this non-approved usage for things such as data storage related to ERP systems and for financial and legal departments. Yikes! I can’t even fathom what such an archipelago of disparate applications will mean if Shadow IT isn’t stopped dead in its tracks.

My best recommendation for the CIO is to first effect change from within, and then bring solutions to the C-Suite showing peers how you plan to be a part of moving the business forward with better and more up to date approval processes, becoming more responsive to the needs of the business and becoming an enabler of SaaS and Cloud Services in a way that will still protect the best interests of the enterprise and its data on a whole.

Frank: How would you like to see the perception of the CIO change in the future?

Heidi: I think an article in Business week last summer put it best. “The IT sector’s expansion from mainframes to distributed servers moved CIOs beyond their chilled computer-room fortress to the user’s domain.Today, the IT sector is driven by cloud-delivered services, including both software and data.” CIOs need to come out of that ivory tower chop chop!  I’d love to see the CIO be at the digital transformation table. I think a triune alliance between CIO, CMO and CDO will make a powerful impact on bringing businesses into the digital age. I think we’ve talked about this before in other offline conversations together. We’re all going to become technologists in some way shape or form. Who better to learn technology from than a well oiled, technology savvy, forward thinking CIO.

Frank: What will be the biggest obstacles for the CIO of the future to overcome? Technological, financial, operational, or a combination?

Heidi:

Obstacle 1: Overcoming the ivory tower effect

Obstacle 2: Demystifying technology and making it accessible

Obstacle 3: Big data, big data and more big data

Obstacle 4: Security

Obstacle 5: Collaboration

I believe that if the CIO can become a trusted source of guidance and insight that helps shape a business’ future – that will be the very best thing for securing the viability of the role into the future. Overcome these obstacles and the CIO will be golden.  And one tongue in cheek comment, the CMO can help with the internal marketing the CIO will need to do to get there.  There’s a lot of stuff that’s going to need to come back “in-house” for a while which is good news to the lifespan of the CIO.  And I think that a combination of the technology, financial and operational factors will definitely come into play. And playing to win at the C-Suite level across the board is the way to do it.

2 thoughts on “IT and Business Integration

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