With all the emphasis on understanding the business, is there a danger that IT leaders are losing their focus on technology itself? Mark Samuels reports.
Much is made of the suggestion that IT leaders must understand the needs of the business. It's a reasonable suggestion - any technology chief knows success is dependent on engagement with the demands of senior executives. But in this push to comprehend the requirements of the business, have we started to ignore the importance of technology?
It's a pertinent question, given that most commentators recognise that IT is now the key building block for organisational success. From on-demand computing to social media and mobile technology, IT chiefs will be expected to give quick answers to crucial investment questions.
While such answers will depend on the requirements of the business, the board will first call on an IT chief for their understanding of technology rather than other operational considerations.
Focus on business issues
In fact, the suggested focus of the CIO on business issues - at a time when technology has never been more important to the organisation - could be seen as a red herring. "CIOs must have a view on new technology," says recruitment specialist Tim Cook, who runs the CIO practice for search firm Russell Reynolds Associates (RRA).
"There's a case for suggesting that the CTO is the new CIO. IT leaders must be able to demonstrate how they have been innovative with technology and how that has transferred to the business. If they can't, they shouldn't answer the phone to head hunters for the next couple of years."
Next-generation leaders, then, must understand technology. Social media might seem like a time-wasting tool but the chief executive's first port of call for a Twitter marketing strategy could be the head of technology. Executive responsibilities are going to blur and IT leaders should view the contested role of technology as an avenue to new career opportunities.
Take cloud computing, where the rise of on-demand computing and a stronger role for the procurement function could lead some organisations to question whether the business really needs an IT department.
Cook encourages CIOs to get ahead and think about how they could potentially take responsibility for the procurement function: "The mash-up CIO is emerging - someone who's completely open to combining areas of business of technology to create new opportunities," he says.
Increasingly demanding role
It is a sentiment that finds agreement with David Smith, the CIO and CTO for Fujitsu in UK and Ireland, a company with £2bn in annual revenue and which employs 14,000 people. As an experienced IT leader, Smith is already fulfilling the joint demands of the two top IT positions and he expects the demands for all technology chiefs to increase.
Smith believes the most senior IT executive in the organisation must be able to identify how business benefit can be derived from technology in a manner that secures intellectual property rights in line with necessary legislative compliance. Rather than simply being...
Mark Samuels is a business journalist and editor at IT leadership organisation CIO Connect. He has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Government Computing and Times Higher Education.