By Mitesh Patel, Managing Director, Fifosys
The role of the IT Director is changing. Having fought for years to gain a seat on the board, with mixed success, the inevitable shift of IT infrastructure to the cloud finally presents the IT Director with a chance to fundamentally change the role and deliver true strategic innovation. Removing the routine tasks of day to day infrastructure administration and planning for server/networking refresh releases the IT Director to focus on the real areas of technology innovation that can support business growth.
But while technology is making the IT Director role passé; the onus is on organisations to exploit the shift to the cloud to create a Chief Innovation Officer who can truly combine the tight business and IT strategic focus that can transform corporate performance.
For years IT experts have argued for a position on the board of directors; for the importance of IT and the business to work more closely together; and for IT investment to not only reflect but influence corporate strategy. Yet even now, when upwards of 80% of corporate processes are totally dependent upon the availability of IT, many SME organisations continue to underestimate the value of IT.
In theory IT Directors are tasked with reducing cost and improving efficiency, increasing corporate agility and minimising exposure to risk. But in reality, how many IT Director roles are actually strategic? How many UK boards regard IT as an enabler? And how many still perceive IT spend to be an operational cost and a burden on revenue at a time of economic downturn? To be frank, how many senior Directors simply consider the IT Director as the go-to source for new iPhones or tablets?
These attitudes have to change. In an era of social media and escalating consumer/supplier demands, no organisation can afford outdated processes, a lack of automation or, critically, system downtime. Every business needs to improve efficiency, expand without adding cost, and transform responsiveness – and that can only be achieved through effective use of innovative technologies.
New Era, New Attitude
The good news is that change is being enabled by the rapid and inevitable shift of IT infrastructure away from on-premise and into the cloud. By outsourcing the delivery of server availability, back up performance, AV status and DR strategy to a third party, the cloud model releases the IT Director to concentrate on the strategic, rather than the routine. The key for business is to embrace that change and leverage the IT Director’s skills to deliver true business innovation.
To achieve this, an organisation needs to understand the difference innovation could and should make to the business. On one side innovation is actually about managing risk and arming the board with a clear understanding – preferably a contractual understanding – of the true risk of downtime. It means explaining the actual cost of losing access to the order processing system for three days or having no access to email. On the other, innovation is about exploiting innovative software to improve decision-making, automate processes and ensuring the business truly uses the full functionality of applications to continually streamline and improve.
But the onus must be on the IT Directors to take control of this situation – and that will mean recognising and addressing gaps in skill, expertise and experience. In the vast majority of SME organisations, the IT Director will have been in the business for five, ten, even 20 years. By default, this individual cannot have been exposed to a breadth of new technologies and ideas due to the pressure of handling the day to day responsibilities.
To become the Chief Innovation Officer (CIO), the IT Director needs to embrace change today – even if the business is still operating on-premise. To gain the trust and respect of the board, the CIO needs not only technology understanding but also the ability to present a strong strategic argument for technology investment; to deliver a clear corporate risk statement; and actively work with the organisation to meet business requirements, from streamlining processes to delivering real-time reporting.
The shift into the cloud is inevitable. No organisation can seriously consider retaining on-premise infrastructure; not only are the costs prohibitive in comparison with cloud-based offerings but it is impossible to manage the technology refresh and update required to remain competitive. Furthermore, the shift to the cloud frees up much needed internal office space by removing the computer room, addressing another of the key barriers to expansion.
Releasing IT Directors from the day to day tedium of checking the status of AV software or managing back-up glitches should be welcomed. The ability to shake off the routine tasks and embrace changes that can truly transform business opens up a fantastic new opportunity. With the right skills, expertise and, critically, board level support, a CIO can transform attitudes to IT. Whilst an IT Director is both constrained by and defined by the day to day grind of infrastructure delivery, the CIO will have the strategic business insight to drive better decision-making or adopt the latest generation of ERP Apps to streamline processes.
Of course, not every IT Director will have the skills or desire to become a CIO. And for those organisations without an IT Director it is worth considering the option of a virtual CIO, an individual that can work with the business to drive IT strategy and realise corporate objectives. But for the rest, it is time to take control and actively seek the right training and coaching required to take the existing skills set to the next level.
Today just a fraction of IT Directors are empowered to take a proactive role in implementing corporate strategy. In ten years, it should be the majority. The era of the CIO has arrived: is your organisation ready to actively foster this role and realise the true value of technology innovation?