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Catch 22: The changing role of the CIO

James Dartnell | Jan. 21, 2015
Chief Information Officers in the Middle East are hamstrung by a seemingly never-ending Catch 22. The last ten years has seen IT change from the department that takes care of technology to exclusively support the business, into an era where CIOs and IT managers are increasingly expected to help achieve competitive advantage.

The changing role of the CIO is not an easy transition. It involves a degree of risk-taking, and for those who are heavily reliant on technology skills whilst not being business-oriented may find this evolution to be especially taxing. Sleiman believes that breaking old habits is tough, "The greatest threat is their own 'legacy' mindset and fear of moving out of their comfort zone," he says. "But this has to change. The expectation from the IT team and the CIO has changed. No longer are they expected to focus on network uptime and helpdesk and user support. They are expected to drive employee productivity."

This increased need to drive productivity and profit means a greater need for streamlined, core technologies. "CIOs can play a key role in the organisation to drive innovation and new business in the application economy," Sevi Tufekci, CTO, Eastern Europe Middle East and Africa, CA Technologies, says. "In today's application economy, fast delivery of high quality applications can be the make or break of an organisation. Yet, the time to market for many enterprise applications is too long and they lack the usability and functionality that consumers expect, because of a rigid culture and a 'one skill in a box' approach."

Although it may be stretching a point to say that CIOs of the future will be penalised for failing to turn IT into a revenue centre, those who are able to align IT vision and strategy with their company's market opportunities will certainly stand out from the crowd. With organisations in the region beginning to grasp the fact that IT is a strategic priority rather than a cost centre, CIOs should be both enthused with and prepared for the opportunity to flaunt their technical acumen in a bottom line context.

Nonetheless, it's important that CIOs remember not to bear the burden of the business' bottom line alone. The better their collaboration with board members and senior stakeholders, the greater chance of success in a project. Tufekci believes that building this vital relationship should be a harmonious two-way street. "Every organisation is different and specific needs will vary, but often it helps to start with a transparent and mutually agreed business plan," she says. "CIOs need to talk the language of the boardroom to grasp innovation opportunities and help drive new business. It's critical for execs to understand the value that IT and the CIOs are bringing to the organisation, but IT needs to distill complexity down and insulate the C-Suite from it — and then deal with it."

Bassam Hemdan, AVP, CommVault, believes it is crucial for IT leaders to translate their IT vision into unambiguous business information. "When deciding to embark on an IT project, it's not so much looking at technical features of various products, but more about evaluating which solutions will have the most business value impact on the organisation — what solutions will give you the highest ROI, the lowest TCO and meet business needs," he says. "Any technology acquisition today will impact the bottom line and hence when making investment decisions, it is important to have the involvement of the CIO, CFO, CEOs and procurement. There needs to be a full study of the investment — how will it impact the business, what will be the operational hours spent on managing the technology, how will it speed up 'time to market' or help the company introduce an innovative service etc. not just a discussion of the technical feature set of the solution."


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