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The business case for a strategist CIO

The CIO role has changed dramatically over the last few years. Digital technologies including big data, Internet of Things, social media, and mobile apps have transformed the very fundamentals of most businesses. With every company becoming a technology company, yesterday's CIO will not suffice for today's business.

It is time that the CIO lose the firefighting outfit for a spot at the c-suite table. Not for IT's sake - For business sake! Tech is embedded in every business process binding them together into a greater system. Much like the heart connecting all the bodily functions together. If the heart has a problem the entire body is in trouble. If you still think of your IT system as only being supportive - try switching it off for a day and look at the impact.

As the cardiologist the CIO must envisage, with the EXCO, what the future might look like. To enable this new vision of the fitter business the cardiologist must carefully calculate what the impact will be on the existing IT system as well as be a fortune teller to predict what tech might be available in this new reality. Reporting to the CEO, the CIO must be responsible for giving oversight and direction to IT and EXCO on strategy, standards, and opportunities for shared services and economies of scale. It goes without saying that the CIO must know their tech stuff.

The complexity of the cardiovascular system and the business IT systems are vast. The investment into those systems can run into the millions of rands. Being ultimately responsible for not only the investment in those assets but also the return on investment not only takes a tech guru but also a business savvy CIO. Understanding the building blocks of the systems and how they influence each other is a non-negotiable. How can you do open heart surgery if you don't understand the cardiovascular system? You need knowledge of how the architecture is built, how the development functions operate, how the project teams operate, how development lifecycles work, how programs execute and how the system operates as a whole. Monitoring the heart rate becomes totally irrelevant when the carotid artery is blocked starving the brain of oxygen ultimately causing death. But a low heart rate during exercise shows an efficient and fit body able to withstand high output for a longer time.

There is a correlation between heart rate (IT metrics) and fitness (Business metrics). The IT Metrics becomes an early warning system of some sort to a business metric. Every CIO needs to be held accountable for the business metrics at board level the IT systems enable. The difference between an average cardiologist and a great one is one that can take the health metrics and trace it back to cardiovascular adjustment that needs to happen! The same with a great CIO. A great CIO needs to be able to look at a business metric and pull the strings of an IT system to have a positive impact on the business outcome. Top CIOs today are digital and transformational leaders. They are restructuring IT around business services and products, as opposed to software applications and projects. While the CFO has his/her eyes on the bottom line, the CEO is focused on the top line thus the CIO should be looking at both! Saving money and increasing revenue with some smart strategic thinking should be the mantra of the CIO.

The CIO needs to be part of the EXCO team as a business partner and be accountable for saving money as well as growing the business through knowledgable interventions and innovations in tech and how people interact with it. There are so many factors influencing the top and bottom lines the CIO is arguably the most influential member on the C-suite that has to be a person with many talents - Len de Villiers lists the CIO's roles and responsibilities in The Public Technologist as: Cost optimiser Security systems advisor Strategic planner Talent/retention manager Business process optimiser / engineer Business continuity manager / disaster recovery director New systems and solutions innovator Leader of people and teams Communicator of vision Procurement strategist Operations manager Stakeholder manager Strategic problem solver Legacy system terminator Project Director Architect of the future landscape Member of EXCO Organisational structure designer Corporate governance sponsor So is your CIO part of the C-suite table or still the IT Techy down in the dungeon? Get them eating at the EXCO Trough contributing to both the top and bottom line by empowering them through our Peer CIO Forums chaired by Len de Villiers or by personal mentoring programmes. If you don't have a CIO we can also help.

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