This was one of the biggest takeaways from the ITWeb Brainstorm CIO Survey, the results of which were presented on Thursday night at the annual Brainstorm CIO Banquet held at the Sandton Convention Centre.
Now in its third year, the survey provides insights into the priorities of the country's top IT executives – from budgeting and cost saving to supplier satisfaction, digital transformation, innovation and skills retention. The country's top CIOs were invited to participate, with 178 CIOs completing the survey.
Local is lekker
Benjamin Marais, CIO of MTN, said the Brainstorm CIO Survey is important in that it gives a true picture of issues affecting South African CIOs rather than relying on international views.
Asked how IT is driving innovation in their businesses, almost 50% of the respondents said IT supports business innovations, but it's not an innovator. Only 24% said IT is a major source of business innovation.
"We asked how IT was driving innovation, and frighteningly, almost 50% of respondents said IT was not expected to drive innovation," said Ben Kelly, editor of Brainstorm magazine, who presented the results.
"Given the importance that this is taking on internationally, it would appear many local companies are exposing themselves to undue risk by not putting their IT team at the forefront of innovation."
The study also confirmed the fact that the CIOs find themselves under mounting pressure, with 83% of the CIOs reporting they are being pushed to change their roles and responsibilities, largely spurred by competition and digital transformation.
"With companies across industry sectors seeing significant change, it's obvious that the role of the CIO would change as well, and that is also clear from the results of the survey," Kelly said. "I don't think any of this is news, but the research validates what we are hearing from not just local CIOs but international research as well."
When it comes to the top concerns of CIOs, however, the results reveal a mixed bag of good and bad news, Kelly pointed out. "While relationships with users have improved, inadequate budgets, the lack of skills and an inability to implement fast enough remain key concerns."
From an operational point of view, the two focus areas that have seen a significant increase are security (64%, up from 53% last year), and the need to consolidate and modernise legacy applications (57%, up from 46%), the survey found.
The time spent by CIOs discussing budget and cost dropped from 31% in 2014 to 26% this year. Most time (54%) is still spent on aligning business with IT, although this is down from 66% in 2014.
Alignment versus integration
Commenting on this finding during a panel discussion that followed the results release, Spiwe Chireka, independent telecommunications, media and technology consultant, said business must focus more on integrating the IT department with the business rather than simply concentrating on alignment.
"When we look at IT in the context of innovation and increasing competition, there is the concept of the ‘new IT'. If you look at local organisational structures, it looks like there is no integration of the IT department and the business. There is a need for integration if South African organisations are to compete in the global market."
The survey also found that lack of discipline in using IT is hampering IT organisations' efforts to be more effective. The other top barriers were businesses seeing IT as a cost centre, and changing goalposts when it comes to expectations from IT.
Sello Mmakau, CIO at Airports Company SA, who also participated in the panel, said: "I have yet to see a business that is happy with the delivery speed of a CIO. You are only as good as the last project delivered."
He said this is because most organisations still see IT as a cost centre. To truly drive innovation, IT must be at the centre of business, he noted, adding there is a need to create an environment where ideas can flourish.
Also speaking during the panel discussion, Thabo Ndlela, group CIO at Tiger Brands, said he believed the relationship between IT and business has improved, noting digital disruption has forced collaboration of IT and digital marketing.
"It was easier to ignore the IT guys in the past, but now marketers need them to do their strategy," added Ndlela.