Fans of Channel 4’s IT crowd, will be familiar with the IT department of the fictional Reynholm Industries, buried deep in the company’s basement with a pre-recorded message to turn the computer off and on again as a default response to anyone who bothers them with an IT query.
As with all the best comedy, it’s a scenario grounded in reality, highlighting the shortfall in visibility and communication around IT which has done little to promote broader understanding and engagement across an organization over the years.
Now, as IT shifts from an under the radar sideshow to one at the heart of business strategy, we’re demanding a little more from those at the helm. Today’s IT leaders need to combine technical savviness with commercial know-how and be strong communicators. In fact, they increasingly need to be ambassadors if the kind of digital transformation projects topping the agenda are to fully flourish.
Taking up the mantle is the CIO, still the new kid on the block compared to their more established C-suite counterparts, who are now finding their feet as a more visible proponent of business transformation.
Theirs can be a critical intervention. Explosive growth and value creation that redefines the customer experience and demands new thinking and ways of working doesn’t happen overnight. Technology can be transformative but this alone, dumped in situ and expected to work its magic will rarely cut it. We need the human touch as well - the kind of organisation-wide buy-in that signals a fully ingrained adoption. Only then does the culture shift to one of inquiry and continuous process improvement.
Tact and diplomacy are needed in spades. Not everyone welcomes data-driven initiatives with open arms. For those who only see limitless potential and opportunity, they’ll always be others who just think numbers and complexity, and fear change.
And these are the detractors that can threaten the progress of major change management. Reaching them and getting them on board means having a CIO who has discovered the art of persuasion and can deliver the right message at the right time.
Take data-driven decision-making. I’m sure we’re all aware of the multiple benefits of an analytics culture and how it empowers more people than the usual suspects to harness data and derive key insights. But in workplaces where it’s still an unknown quantity, a case still needs to be made and the message pitched in the right way. For example, pitching analytics as a tool that can drive the efficiency and scope of a person’s role is likely to go down far better with the wider workforce than something introduced to remedy any perceived shortfalls in their approach and performance.
Then there’s the actual delivery. New technology needs to be drip-fed through in a way that encourages experimentation so people see and experience the benefits first-hand. As a result, we see take-up developing organically as opposed to the more formal implementation of a major IT roll out which can seem imposed and autocratic.
By straddling the business and IT arena with a broad overview of technology and trends, key interdependencies, and where the critical levers of change are, the CIO has a unique perspective. In this respect, no one is better placed to foster a more collaborative and 'intrapreneurial' culture by engaging with the business and external constituents. And from running hackathons which bring teams of developers to collaborate and share ideas to driving the API Management they have all the tools at their disposal to inspire a cultural shift.
In the case of APIs, if successfully implemented, we start to see the development of internal communities around them which gets departments talking to each other and sharing their findings, the kind of collaboration which is the very essence of digital transformation.
Artful communication and the ability to explain a concept in layman’s terms in a way that engages and is relevant to all levels of an organization, and the CIO is vital to making this a reality. A souped-up senior IT manager without a proper seat at the top table? Not anymore - the CIO now has his feet firmly underneath it.