Challenging times are often seen as catalysts for change. So too is innovation. In the public sector, both have come together in the form of financial pressures and increasing expectations to create a Darwinian moment for CIOs.
According to research published by BT, Art of Connecting: creativity and the modern CIO, 81 per cent of public sector CIOs say that their role is fundamentally changing. And despite many challenges, most agree that it’s changing for the better.
Today’s public sector CIOs now finds themselves centre-stage as their boards look for radical cost transformation and continue to push for the digitalisation of services. As a result, the research finds that CIOs’ key performance indicators (KPIs) are dramatically shifting too.
Whereas five years ago, technology metrics would have dominated a CIO’s scorecard, today, business targets are supreme, with internal and external satisfaction measures, cost reduction and even revenue generation complementing more traditional objectives such as network availability.
So although CIOs aren’t being allowed to wash their hands of their traditional tasks completely, overall their objectives are becoming much more strategic in line with the pressures faced by their organisations.
Out of the shadow
The opportunity for the CIO to step up and become a more strategic business leader comes at a time when many are stepping back from the hand-on delivery of tactical IT solutions used by individual departments in their organisation.
The research finds that “shadow IT”, a practice by which departments procure their own specialist IT solutions, is on the rise and now accounts for 20 per cent of an organisation’s IT spend. The practice — if not the name — is long established in the public sector, particularly in areas such as health. Indeed, 69 per cent of public sector senior IT decision makers say that it happens in their organisation.
But shadow IT has created new strategic challenges around security, which CIOs worry could potentially affect the wider organisation. Indeed, the research finds that public sector CIOs have to spend 18 per cent more time and substantial extra budget to manage security as a result of shadow IT.
But if the growth in shadow IT places new demands on the CIO, it brings new opportunities too.
Creative CIOs are proactively engaging with departments to look for new ways to unlock value by joining up the silos of data their shadow IT is generating.
CIOs can do this because they have a unique view of their organisations. They can see how people are using technology in every department to overcome different challenges. They can see where and when data is emerging, where it’s needed and how to join it up. This creates new conversations for CIOs to have with their board and helps build their position as strategic leaders.
Harbingers of change
This shift in emphasis from tactical to strategic opportunities means that creative CIOs are now harbingers of change and innovation. Their mastery of data means that they no longer simply manage an operational support function but are becoming central to business strategy and success. And it’s a change that’s being recognised by the board.
The research finds that 55 per cent of senior IT decision makers believe their board now recognises the need for a much more creative CIO, one that can operate across the organisation, orchestrating technology and skills to deliver departmental or strategic outcomes. It’s a change that the majority of CIOs positively embrace; with 66 per cent saying the ability to be more creative is the biggest plus of their job.
More than tech-savvy
With a changing role comes a changing skills set. New public sector CIOs must be more than tech-savvy. They also need commercial acumen — the ability to spot an opportunity to exploit technology and data. They need excellent communication and collaboration skills so that they can engage and inspire others across their organisation. And they need to build and draw on the creativity of their team, including their external technology partners.
The research finds that the overwhelming majority of public sector CIOs believe their technology partners to be creative. But paradoxically, less than one in three consider approaching them for creative solutions.
Some people I’ve met in the public sector — and elsewhere — question whether the role of the CIO will survive. I have no doubt that it will. What’s more, I see a great opportunity for CIOs to use their creativity to thrive. And if they can do that, they’ll help make all our lives better.
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