warning CIOs: break down the walls

Reading the 14th Annual State of the CIO survey over at CIO.com, it seems pretty clear that the role of IT is being just as drastically transformed as the rest of the enterprise, and all the old departmental divisions have got to fall.

tuning in

Skill shortages loom as the well of experienced data analytics, security, application development, mobile and enterprise architecture development staff runs close to dry in the face of massive increases in demand. But just because a skills shortage is anticipated doesn’t mean other ‘C’-class executives will accept it.

Fifty-four percent of business leaders already think their IT group is an obstacle to what they need to get done. Worse, the CIO and their team may not realize that’s what they think. Colleagues want tech to be accessible, comprehensible, and responsive to external and internal concerns.

Those demands are inevitable in reaction to the disruption we’re seeing as enterprise technology bumps up against every role. IT isn’t just a driver to this digital transformation, it is also impacted by it. IT is not immune to the need to bring interdepartmental siloes crashing down, and humans are a bigger challenge to this evolution than technology. 

interesting approaches

The survey reveals interesting approaches to this challenge already being put in place at some big US firms.

  • CIO Bill Swislow of Cars.com sends IT staffers out on sales visits to car dealerships. IT staff also shadow customer service agents at the call center.
  • A $15.9 billion utility, AES, has overhauled its internal help desk system so tech support staff are in the open, available at counters (like an Apple Genius Bar) where colleagues can stop for a chat, try new gadgets out, or get support. This is helps create stronger relationships between IT staff and their colleagues.
  • Every month, Wayfair’s IT staff meet informally with business groups across the company to discuss technology or ideas. When new projects are initiated volunteers from other departments involved in the project are placed with tech support to act as evangelists for the scheme within IT.

Relationships, collaboration, the desire to foster good team working and breaking down of intra-departmental siloes, all of these aims are part of the CIO agenda this year, the survey claims.

There are other demands and numerous hidden risks that need to be addressed and there is some discrepancy between what CIOs and business leaders think. For example: 21 percent of business leaders want IT staff to visit external customers, while just 9 percent of CIOs see this as a priority.

sack the silos

Clearly IT leadership needs to become more closely aligned with business need. "The idea that business and IT are separate is not healthy," Bill Swislow, CIO of Cars.com told CIO.com.

Such a separation is an unsustainable response as the wildfire of digital transformation means every enterprise is becoming a digital enterprise. Despite the complexity of the transformation the rewards could be rich, potentially adding $1.36 trillion to the world’s top economies, claims Accenture.

These new demands don’t mean the old challenges are any easier, of course. Security, systems, application architecture and a readiness to engage with everything from BYOD to big data means CIO budgets are stretched, staff are hard to find and expertise is hard to keep. 56 percent of CIO’s already think it will be hard for them to recruit the people they need in the coming year.

Even while they attempt to preempt such challenge they also need to watch for fresh disruptive potential posed by new evolutions such as 3D printing, wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT). Of course, no one ever said digital transformation would be easy.

You can read about how Orange Business helped Aurecon improve collaboration across 7,500 staff in 26 countries. If you need advice with your digital transformation then contact Orange Business Services, we’ll be happy to help.

Jon Evans

Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.