The role of a chief information officer: more than just tech
The chief information officer’s role has become more important, but even a CIO can’t always keep pace with change
As technology shifts the way business is done in a modern economy, decision-makers in organisations are forced to confront greater challenges.
"What we see is a tension between technology and business," says Daniel Acton, regional tech lead for cloud at Google SA.
"Even with customers, there’s a duality. You have people who care about the technology and how we run stuff; then we have people who care about the money and the business – and we don’t see those working together much," Acton says.
The people at the coalface of this tension are chief information officers, a role no longer confined to delivering IT. CIOs now have input into formulating business strategy.
This expanded role and influence comes as tech becomes more important for a company’s future.
Keeping up with the fast pace of change is also a problem. Even CIOs themselves can be accused of not knowing or understanding the technology used in their organisations.
Acton says: "We must be fair to CIOs. They probably did have a technical background – 30 years ago. But Moore’s Law dictates the pace of technology innovation: 30 years in real terms is many millennia in technology terms."
So what services are companies buying?
With more organisations choosing to outsource the management and storage of data through cloud computing, CIOs are now concerned about where that data is kept, its security and privacy, says Shai Morgan, head of Google cloud for Sub-Saharan Africa.
Firms want a secure space to store this data and, increasingly, this service is outsourced.
Acton says the need to innovate is pushing local firms to upgrade their infrastructure to reduce costs, save time and maximise efficiency.
Then there is smart analytics. With data driving much decision-making, machine learning and artificial intelligence are being used to gain insights which can help build strategies for future products and services.
Another element is application development. Companies want to know how to "write applications and software for [their] consumers and business that are modern and easy to host", says Acton.
But all this can come at a cost. The shift to pure cloud-based operations can be a difficult process to introduce, especially into large bureaucratic firms. It also may result in job losses for people maintaining those systems, says Oracle SA’s Derek Bose.
"Whether it’s 10-man teams versus 10,000-worker organisations, we hear similar stories," he says, adding that it appears to be easier for smaller companies to make a switch to cloud applications as larger organisations lack the agility of a small business.