Can CIOs help CEOs unlock innovation?

Organisations face constant pressure brought about by the continued threat and opportunity of change.

Jack Welch once stated, ‘if the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.’ With IT spend predicted to reach $3.5 trillion in 2017, it’s vital that businesses ensure they keep up with today’s disruptive landscape. 

Organisations face constant pressure brought about by the continued threat and opportunity of change. From traditional organisations and new upstarts alike, staying successful in the market and growing requires innovation, agility, and a willingness to embrace change. For companies that can successfully navigate the wave of disruption, the reward is market leadership, financial stability, and long-term viability.

CEOs need the support and participation of other C-level executives to help them achieve organisational goals. CEOs are looking specifically to their CIOs to deliver innovative technology solutions that make their companies more efficient and competitive. Recent research by Harvey Nash revealed that more than a third (34 per cent) of CIOs now report directly to the CEO and the goal of digital innovation will bring the CIO role into sharp focus in 2017. It’s clear that as CIOs become more involved in business outcomes, CEO and CIO collaboration will be key to enabling the business to make informed decisions and drive innovation.

Recognise and drive digital disruption opportunities

While IT is still expected to manage its day-to-day operations and teams, the CIO is increasingly being asked to chart a digital strategy that changes how companies reach and interact with customers. This includes helping transform their companies to take advantage of digital business opportunities that support CEO-driven growth initiatives.


CEOs see that both speed and efficiency are critical differentiators from their competitors, and they view the CIO as the person who can best align business and technology goals to help them get to market faster.

IBM conducted a survey, “Redefining Boundaries: The Global C-suite Study,” that gathered the thoughts of more than 5,000 C-suite executives in 21 different countries. Among other things, it highlights the CEO’s dependency on the CIO, and shows how technology factors like digital disruption are critical to strategy.

For example, 58 per cent of market-leading CEOs pursue disruptive innovation, not purely incremental improvements. They see that both speed and efficiency are critical differentiators from their competitors, and they view the CIO as the person who can best align business and technology goals to help them get to market faster.

In this environment, the CIO has become a champion of harnessing disruption to define a better path for how the business operates. Identifying and employing the right business solutions can change how work across the enterprise is delegated, completed, and assessed.

New and innovative mobile, cloud-based, and user-centric solutions can create an environment of increased technology usage and deeper understanding of how to address business goals. The cloud, meanwhile, is increasingly seen as the new standard in how to manage the business without having the burden of IT infrastructure management costs and hassles, freeing up IT for more strategic, growth-oriented work.

With digital transformation ongoing across the organisation, that’s changing. CIOs are being asked to think more about the business and how to grow it through technology. CIOs need to actively support digital transformation, putting the right tools and information in the hands of employees, customers, and partners, and helping the business find new digital revenue streams. This transformation is creating entirely new business models, and new types of products and services that are made possible by digital. Their creative, innovative skill set is valued and needed more than ever in today’s economy to help create a sustainable path to long-term success.

Assess the impact of innovation

The IBM study explains C-suite thinking around technology decisions and strategy: “one of the most notable trends of the past decade has been the increase in the significance CEOs attribute to technology. Ten years ago, they put it sixth on the list of most important external factors they expected to exert an influence on their enterprises. Now, it consistently tops the features that light up their radar screens.”

CIOs need to understand the demographics and behaviours of both their own workforces and their customer and partner bases.

While the increasing emphasis on technology is certainly good for IT departments, CEOs often focus on the end-user experience—they see anything that reaches more potential customers, such as mobile apps and user-friendly web sites, as a solution for driving growth. However, they may not have the perspective to think through the full repercussions of new solutions and how they impact the organisation internally. What may be good for customers may not necessarily be a logical solution to implement with an existing IT architecture. Things like flexibility to configure applications as needed and capabilities for integrating services, data, and applications may not intuitively seem to support those customer-centric goals.

CIOs, therefore, must assess the impact of innovation and how it will apply to business goals. They need to understand the demographics and behaviours of both their own workforces and their customer and partner bases. A well-designed IT architecture has to have the right technology foundation to meet the needs of internal stakeholders as well as customers and third parties. This balance can only come from the direction of an insightful CIO who recognises that long-term benefits can result from the willingness to embrace short-term disruption.

CIOs sit in a unique spot: they have the opportunity to create innovative growth strategies for their organisations through a combination of business knowledge and deep technology expertise. The technology they choose to employ must provide an advantage and also meet the needs of users. By focusing on these critical areas, CIOs will create an impact across the enterprise and impact stakeholders throughout the company’s ecosystem.

How a company reacts to change and disruption can be the difference between riding atop the wave or being rolled beneath it. CIOs need to help their organisations see the possibilities presented by disruption and drive a technology strategy that ensures that their company is ready for whatever wave rolls their way next.

Annrai O’Toole, Chief Technology Officer, EMEA, Workday
Image Credit: thinkpublic / Flickr

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Annrai O’Toole is chief technology officer, EMEA, at Workday. He is responsible for technology strategy across Europe and helping to drive innovation globally.

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