Analysts are always telling CIOs what the priorities should be for the next 12 months. But what do CIOs themselves see as the main areas of focus? Mark Samuels reports.

The return to the office after the New Year holiday brings its own customs: the misery of the commute, a heaving inbox and a desire to do things better in 2011.

Such aims are accompanied by another tradition, one where analysts and consultants rush to tell you about the key technologies the business must purchase and implement during 2011.

But are these technology projects the real focus for CIOs? Here, IT leaders discuss their priorities for 2011. These discussions are grouped around five key themes. What seems apparent from such themes is that business leadership, not simply IT implementation, will be top of the CIO’s priority list for 2011.

1. Understanding the business perspective

Andrew Abboud, CIO at City University in London, has one governing thought for IT leaders in 2011: “CIOs should spend little, if any, time on technology and focus instead on raising their game and profile from a business perspective.”

When it comes to his own approach, Abboud says he will concentrate on the business perspective by focusing on the important, rather than just urgent, activities that executives sometimes forget.

Man at a business meeting

CIOs should spend more time communicating the positives of recent tech investments so the business value of IT is understood
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Abboud groups such perspective-based activities into communication, education and engagement. First, driving through the benefits of recent investments and communicating the positives so the business value of IT is understood.

Second, educating senior management about the opportunities presented through new technology, such as social media and mobile devices. Finally, deepening his understanding of customer needs and the reality of how IT services are delivered: “I will do this by going back to the shop floor,” says Abboud.

2. Precisely defining governance

Recession and recovery bring a series of economic challenges. Old and established ways of delivering IT for the business are analysed and new cost-effective means of production demanded.

Step forward the CIO, who has to lead the business towards a promised land of better – and cheaper – IT. This new IT is based on key technological approaches, such as the cloud, virtualisation, collaboration and mobility – and the CIO must provide a tightly defined framework for delivery.

“It is clear that we have a new normal in terms of baseline IT spend post-recession and with this new baseline comes a requirement to…

…recalibrate the IT governance model,” says Adam Gerrard, group CIO at Avis Europe. It is a suggestion that chimes with Kingfisher group IT director Mike Bell, who says a tight grip on governance is the only way to deliver business benefits.

“I’ve spent almost two years telling project sponsors and the operating groups responsible for technology what I expect them to do,” he says. “I also work with suppliers, telling them what I want from them. Governance is about good processes inside and outside – and that will never go away.”

3. Dealing with risk management

Economic uncertainty has been accompanied by technological transformation. It is a confluence of conditions that creates a spike in demand for leading-edge IT from the business.

“There has never been enough time for an IT team to deliver the perfect solution, but now we must be prepared to factor in some risk to keep pace with the business and the consumer,” says Avis Europe’s Gerrard.

“These risks must be carefully managed, consequences clearly communicated and adequate levels of mitigation agreed with the leadership team of the organisation.”

Understanding existing resources and the potential for new capabilities will be crucial. To this point, easyJet CIO Trevor Didcock says really effective portfolio management will be a priority. “We are increasing our development spend, and resourcing and dependency management are real challenges,” he says.

Expansion requires the identification of new opportunities, with advanced business intelligence and analytics playing a crucial role: “Knowledge and information allows me to provide information to the business to help with decisions regarding customers, supply-chain costs and procurement,” says Kingfisher’s Bell.

4. Attracting and retaining talent

There are multiple reasons for a concentration on talent. Money remains tight, especially in the public sector, and good staff will be expected to deliver more and often with less. But at the same time, organisations will be under severe pressure to grow.

Businesses that are best placed to emerge successfully from the downturn will be those that have worked hard to maintain a competitive edge. That level of competition is taking an increasingly global perspective, as new countries take advantage of new technologies to assert their position in the world economy.

“There will be a battle to source the best of the scarce IT talent in most geographies,” recognises Avis Europe’s Gerrard. “For those organisations that already have a high-performing team, significant focus will be required to ensure that the best performers are retained throughout the next 12 months.”

Trevor Didcock, CIO at easyJet, also says talent retention will be a key priority for CIOs through 2011: “It’s all about getting and keeping real spirit and engagement across the team,” he says.

5. Engaging through mobile and social technology

Analyst Gartner says mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common web access device worldwide by 2013. As a consequence, CIOs will have to ensure their various web-based platforms can cope with the requirements of mobile operating systems.

The mobile push will be allied to networked collaboration, as organisations rush to capitalise on social media and emerging consumer technology. The clamour from the business will be such that demand for cool technology is likely to outstrip demand, says Avis Europe’s Gerrard.

Further attention will have to be paid to other areas of related technology development, such as user experience. As edge IPK CTO Dharmesh Mistry notes, successful engagement will necessitate a consistent experience for the individual across multiple online channels and devices.

The conclusion is simple: “CIOs simply must prioritise making their content and services available via mobile devices,” says easyJet’s Didcock.