The impact of digital disruption on the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) is an issue that many organisations in Australia are currently exploring. As new technologies impact the nature of the relationship between the CIO and the business, they also have the potential to change the relationship between the board and the CIO and the board and the broader IT function.
The advent of cloud, mobile, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data as key business enablers has meant far greater scrutiny on the IT function at board level, with both C-level executives and board members now requiring more from the CIO in terms of information and transparency. A dramatic increase in security and cyber threats has exacerbated this trend and created far more desire for engagement from the board.
What does this mean for the board itself and for CIOs?
Given the strategic role of technology in delivering value and growth – and the scale of impact security and cyber threats can have across organisations – boards can no longer abrogate all responsibility for the IT function to the CIO. They need to understand how technology is enabling their business strategy, the business case for using certain technologies and how to embed a digital culture in their organisation.
"Given the strategic role of technology in delivering value and growth – and the scale of impact security and cyber threats can have across organisations – boards can no longer abrogate all responsibility for the IT function to the CIO."
Partner in Charge, Technology
Companies that want to be innovative, digitise and integrate their processes, create a seamless customer experience across a range of channels and capture and analyse their customer data need board members that are willing to commit to research and development and reorient the organisation around technology.
At the very heart of creating a digital culture is the board's willingness to collaborate and facilitate cross-functional collaboration to achieve the desired outcome. Transforming an organisation, creating value and growing via digital means a new level of collaboration within the business and with new and existing suppliers. It also means forging new relationships with customers and building new loyalty. There's some degree of risk involved in this kind of reorientation and the board needs to be fully committed and supportive.
Innovation comes with a price and boards need to be willing to create a culture where the IT team and the CIO can fail safely – this is the only way their teams can test and learn properly. This does not mean extending carte blanche to the CIO and IT team to do whatever they want, but understanding the business case for pursuing a specific platform, channel or product innovation and then enabling the team to test appropriately.
For CIOs, the changing digital environment and their changing vision means creating a new kind of relationship with the board. CIOs need to be able to communicate clearly with the board – and not get bogged down in technicalities, but focus on how various innovative solutions align with overall business strategies. It's paramount that CIOs learn to create powerful business cases and communicate in a language that resonates with the board.
This starts with a change of perspective from the CIO – CIOs need to see themselves as running a digital business, not an IT team.
As technology evolves, the conversation between the board and the CIO will also keep changing. CIOs must keep lines of communication clear and open – and not be afraid to either challenge the status quo – or be challenged.