Chris Fielding, Chief Information Officer, Sungard AS shared her thoughts with Business Leader about the growing importance of a Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the future of companies across the UK.
The most obvious impact of the pandemic on the world of work was the overnight shift to remote work. Almost half (46 percent) of Britons in employment were forced to work from home in April 2020. Now, with much of the country favouring some form of flexible working in a post-pandemic world, business models are going to change forever.
A side effect of this new reality that hasn’t received as much focus as remote working has been the major organisational shift at the C-Suite level. Many executives have broadened their direct responsibilities, taking a more hands-on approach to mitigate the various disruptions caused by the crisis. Instead of leading businesses from behind the scenes, they’ve become the central figures that everyone is keen to hear from. This position has often fallen on the C-Suite’s shoulders due to the urgency with which decisions need to be made. With the ever-changing environments in which we have been living, decisions have needed to be quicker than ever before to ensure business survival.
Everyone has recognised just how important technology is in our modern lives, whether that be staying connected with friends or family via Zoom, ordering essential goods online, or staying entertained and healthy. And with technology having been at the very heart of organisations throughout the pandemic, the role of the CIO is more important than ever.
CIOs no longer solely deal with the IT dimension of an organisation. Digital transformation has been a growing trend for the past decade, and the pandemic has catalysed the speed in which it is changing businesses. This has placed CIOs in a much more strategic position and shaped how the role will evolve when the pandemic is finally over.
The changing role of the CIO
Five years ago, CIOs were incredibly focused on security, both of employees and sensitive business information. This has now morphed into privacy by design. With the shift towards extended remote work, security has been harder to control, but the experience and skills CIOs have developed from growing threats in the past decade has meant that this hasn’t been as much of a stumbling block as it could have been.
CIOs have to think about what’s most important for the business from a technology front, while crucially considering regulation, such as GDPR. This past year has transformed operations for organisations in all industries. Enforcing remote work overnight has been a challenge for many, but proactive CIOs would have seen this shift coming. I was selling the vision of making employees as effective as possible regardless of their location long before the pandemic. It takes a lot of work, investment, and infrastructure to make it truly successful, and it’s my guess that many organisations will continue to work this way well into the future.
For CIOs, major decisions like this require justification of investment in hardware and software, proving the benefits of major changes to the board and all employees. Challenging the status quo in this way requires strong leadership from CIOs who must sell and implement that vision.
The changing face of management
Although the vast majority of business leaders (98 percent) believe their company has successfully executed a remote work approach, managing a team successfully has been hugely shaken up by remote working.
For most CIOs, experience working with teams geographically separated isn’t uncommon, but the overnight shift to months of home working is extremely rare. CIOs must manage by setting clear objectives and giving people the support and training they need to do their job. Collaboration is key, and so are equal opportunities. CIOs must ensure that the opportunities they create can be fulfilled by anybody, regardless of their location.
Remote working has removed those informal conversations had over the brewing of a cup of tea or during lunch breaks too, with all communications now mainly work orientated. Employees no longer feel like they have an excuse for an informal conversation during working days, but leaders need to ensure employees stay engaged. The CIO must now define and develop a new approach to establishing inclusive virtual cultures that provide employees with opportunities to showcase their skills and enjoy interactions with colleagues organically.
The changing position of the board
Boards across all businesses have shifted dramatically in the last twelve months. CEOs have taken a more empathetic role, acting as a comforter, CFOs have taken on the role of the provider, and CIOs have taken on the role of enabler.
Traditionally, CIOs have not been at the heart of business decisions, rather the ones who implement the changes made and make sure it functions properly in helping the organisation grow. But, with the overnight digital transformation seen during the pandemic, the role has become increasingly important to business survival and has been placed in a central position when it comes to making decisions.
IT was already an integral part of an organisation, but during the past twelve months it has become critical to the future of the business. It has provided us with a reflection period to identify what matters most and where budgets need to be prioritised for the future. After all, an IT initiative gone wrong can put the whole organisation at risk.
Looking ahead to the future
With restrictions easing, and a plan out of lockdown well and truly underway, we must prepare for the future world of work and recovery plans. Traditionally, CIOs have been tasked with managing an entire IT infrastructure, but now need to turn their hand to maximising budgets and highlighting the value of investment in new technologies.
CIOs must understand their industry and prioritise what investment is needed now and what can wait until later. Ultimately, they have become a service provider for everyone in an organisation, helping them to work as efficiently and successfully as possible.