African CIOs certainly have their work cut out for them. In a changing IT landscape CIOs cannot wait for instruction. They need to break new ground.
Most businesses regard their IT department as a cost centre and not as a driver of business innovation. This often means that when businesses face a financial squeeze, they look to cut costs in their IT department, meaning that these departments have not grown with inflation in recent years.
Research has found that CIOs are concerned with the skill levels in their departments and the general availability of key skills. Worryingly, only a small portion of companies have IT skills internships in place, which means that few people are acquiring these sought-after skills. This is not a fault of the CIO, but a result of the lack of budget allocated to IT.
The CIO position does not get the respect it deserves in Africa, even as it finds itself on the verge of becoming one of the most important positions for business success. Currently, CIOs find themselves in the wild west of the business world. If their department is neglected, it could have dire consequences for the company. Over the short term, this means that the CIO has to develop an ability to educate management on the risks associated with a poorly performing IT department, until such time that it becomes general knowledge.
This job may sound rather difficult, but the sad truth for many companies is that it is even more difficult than it sounds. Many companies loathe to expand their IT budget, but have to maintain and enlarge their infrastructure. This means that CIOs spend such a large portion of their time on maintenance that they come to be regarded as not being capable of doing something interesting and innovative. Contrast this with the status of the CIO in the USA as one of the drivers of innovation in a company.
CIOs therefore have to do their homework thoroughly and approach management with clear-cut reasons for the need to adopt new technology. If there is an opportunity to move processes to the cloud, the CIO has to be able to show an increase in efficiency and a reduction in costs, in order for the company to see the value of carrying out such processes.
In addition, CIOs need to be confident that new technology is not a gateway for security breaches, as this will be a major deterrent for companies with a traditional mindset. However, if any risks are identified beforehand and management is convinced that all contingencies are addressed, CIOs may just get to work on projects that are not only more fulfilling, but actively contribute to the sustainability of the company.
While this is a precarious road to travel, it is the only way forward for the ambitious CIO. If the IT department fails to deliver real value, the business may just decide to move their processes to a cloud service hosted by a third party. Many younger people entering the job market have an above-average working knowledge of IT, and may start to question why the business needs the department.
CIOs understand that they have to position themselves as leaders in the company and initiate conversations on business processes with key decision makers to foster the idea that the CIO is a go-to person for insightful input. They should listen carefully to the ambitions and frustrations of business leaders and present innovative ideas to address these.
Fostering these alliances will help the CIO to get management to rubber stamp proposed governance structures, such as how enterprise services should be prioritised. A lack of these structures can lead to a number of business ills, including security breaches and poor business performance. CIOs who address these issues before they become apparent, with the assistance of management, cement their positions as invaluable team players.
CIOs in the current IT landscape have to display strong leadership qualities to navigate their businesses through the stormy waters where IT is not given its due. Those who achieve success in this environment will find themselves a much sought-after commodity in a future where their significance to a business will only grow.
By Giorgio Heiman, Vice President of Orange Business Services Africa