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Future uncertain

For your average CIO, the only certain thing is uncertainty, except when it comes to their role in the organisation in the future. That, they know.

BY  Lesley Stones , 1 November 20100 comments

Kris Tokarzewski, Netcare, likens today's environment for CIO's to a digital arms race. | Photo by Suzanne GellPhoto by Suzanne GellKris Tokarzewski, Netcare, likens today's environment for CIO's to a digital arms race.

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Everyone knows that planning ahead in the IT business is always tricky, and sometimes it’s just plain foolhardy.

In a field where things change so rapidly, and this year’s hot new technology is last year’s abject failure, defining a road map isn’t easy.

But it isn’t too hard for CIOs to plot their own futures, since their job remains essentially the same even though the technologies they handle are evolving.

In the spirit of enquiry, Brainstorm asked four CIOs how they see their own role evolving over the next three years.

Every company will elevate the CIO’s role to an executive level with a seat on the board if African Rainbow Minerals CIO Johan Pistorius has his way.

Numerous compliancy issues facing companies and the role that the IT department plays in helping to meet all those demands justifies that degree of responsibility and respect, he believes.

“Due to the reliance on IT and software, this position will be as important to the CEO as that of the CFO or COO. It needs to be integral to the determination of business strategy and direction as it is the enabler of all,” Pistorius says.

African Rainbow Minerals owns base metals, platinum and coal operations and holds a significant interest in the gold mining sector through its shareholding in Harmony. Its IT department should no longer be seen merely as a cost centre that delivers services to the business, Pistorius says.

“IT is becoming one of the most critical functions within the organisation,” he notes, due to its involvement in the operations and its need to understand how the business operates and how it can be improved.


A strategic enabler

“I see the role of CIO evolving to join the highest level of management and direction within any organisation in order to be effective and to ensure business agility and compliance. Not forgetting business continuity and enabling the competitive edge on any competition.”

Pistorius also hopes that CIOs will evolve to become ‘trusted business partners’ who can enable executives to be effective and operational from anywhere at any time, using any device.

Sandi Macfie, the director of IT for Southern Sun Hotels, holds the view that IT needs to be fully integrated into the business as an enabler of vision and strategy.

“The role of the CIO is rapidly transforming from merely that of a ‘functional head’ responsible for the IT systems and technologies that support the business operations, to that of a ‘business leader’ with the strategic insight to leverage technology investments in order to drive sustainable business value,” she says.

“Highly integrated technologies and instant access to information is all about living in a ‘digital world’. Given the breadth of business opportunities that can benefit from IT innovation, the CIO will ideally operate within a matrix structure organisation.”

The value of a CIO should be measured by their ability to optimise the use of technology and develop innovative ways to use information to ensure their organisation gains a competitive and strategic advantage, Macfie says.

Today’s environment for CIOs is a digital arms race, with new technologies being introduced on a daily basis, says Netcare’s CIO Kris Tokarzewski. “Many are double-edged swords; they provide new possibilities for conducting business yet they often come with increased levels of complexity and risk.”

CIOs will need to become increasingly skilled in assessing the potential of new technologies and their implications on the business and IT landscape.

Tokarzewski believes that collaborative and social networking technologies are the future, but he warns that caution must be exercised in industries such as healthcare, where the rapid dissemination of false information could have severe consequences.

“Solid business processes, information classification and information release frameworks have to be put in place, to balance speed of communication with control that ensures accuracy of the information,” he says.

Many collaborative tools are designed to benefit consumers, but do not necessarily pay enough attention to enterprises that have to ensure good governance. Easier consumer access to information may clash with a company’s need to secure its data, Tokarzewski says, so CIOs must increasingly exercise sound judgement, manage expectations and ensure IT governance.

“Strong leadership and an alignment with business are vital, as ultimately IT is a supporting function and as such it has to find a suitable solution to achieve business objectives,” he says.

Overall, he believes the role of a CIO will evolve to become not only a technology guru, but also an advisor who is skilled in regulatory issues. New regulatory requirements designed to improve corporate governance, like the Companies Act and King III, are changing the role of the CIO from providing technology to encouraging its responsible use and mitigating the risks associated with it.

The theme that CIOs should be treated with more respect and their influence extended into all areas of the business is reiterated by Graeme Ortlieb, head of IT at Fintech.

Fintech is a financial company that provides financing for technologies used in businesses, so Ortlieb sees just how far IT’s scope extends.

“As technology becomes more involved with all areas of the business, it has become critical that the CIO, much like the CFO in the past, will require broad knowledge of the business,” he says. “The combination of business knowledge, technology savvy and strategic vision positions the CIO to become the primary change agent for their business.”

One area that has seen little input from the CIO so far is the sales department, but the challenges and opportunities presented by using mobile and internet sales channels and tools make this an area that is likely to take up much of the CIO’s time in the future, Ortlieb believes.