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Outsource magazine: thought-leadership and outsourcing strategy | April 24, 2014

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A glimpse of the future for CIOs

A glimpse of the future for CIOs
Christian McMahon

There are those that try to predict it; those that dread it and those that revel in it but you can’t deny that it’s going to happen in some way shape or form.

If you are of a certain age such as me you will remember watching the BBC show Tomorrow’s World and its predictions of how we would be living now.

I remember the notions of how we would all be commuting to work in our own private flying saucers and having our meals served to us by robot butlers that seem so fanciful now. Whilst we haven’t seen many of these predictions come true, the future will always bring new developments. It’s what we do with them and how we react that counts!

One of my favourite sporting phrases is that “you make your own luck” and this really translates to “if you work hard and deliver, you will start to receive kinder breaks along the way”. Realistically, no matter how much you try to hide from it, the future really is what you make it.

When we are doing any form of business planning, we have to try and cater for what the future will bring as accurately as possible. Whilst this is not easy, you can try to follow trends or address certain needs such as installing a CRM or ERP system (big gulp) and many of these will be able to reach the budgetary approval stage, as they are often known as being necessary for any thriving business by the CEO/CFO.

Any C-suite will want to see innovation coming from its IT head, but how far they want to go and what allocation of cash you get is down to the individual to prise away from them. You should be strong and demand some allocation for innovation, as you really never know if this could give your company a game changing service or something to lift it away from its competitors.

Often, if you do this once and succeed in delivering ROI there will be a release of at least a couple of the CFO’s fingers from the purse strings before you next meet. Innovation is the real key here and in these tough times, it’s what is going to bring and keep IT at the top table whilst gaining you the full support of your peers.

Innovation is what separates the old-fashioned “lights on” mentality of the old-school IT Director from the new-school machinations of the CIO. Indeed, many suggest that the title of CIO should stand for Chief Innovation Officer rather than the traditional Chief Information Officer (more of that on another day). One thing is for sure, you don’t want to be stagnating as the old-school IT Director any longer and in any type of organisation this can no longer be tolerated.

When the now-more-frequent organisational reviews take place, you certainly don’t want to be the person searching frantically for a chair to sit on when the music stops…Every IT head needs to always have one eye on the future and on how they can spot a new trend or service that will add real value to the business.

If you spot a service that you think would be advantageous for a particular function in your organisation, don’t be afraid to get them involved in a demo or a meeting with the vendor as quickly as possible – they will thank you either way for involving and thinking of them. If you think there is something there that can be useful, they could probably spot at least another five reasons if the service is right for them during the demo. This not only brings quicker ROI if the service is on the money but will also display a real willingness to collaborate across your top team. Multiply this by a few times and you could well have your very own thriving business incubator.

When in the pre planning stages for budgeting you really need to add a blend of keeping the lights on, the addition of new and proven services, as well as a smidgeon of the piloting of new offerings.

Offering that smidgeon – or “skunk works” as Americans call it – is what will really spark innovation and allow staff to spread their wings a bit by being involved. Indeed, many US corporations such as Google and LinkedIn offer as much as one full day a week or month to staff to work on personal projects.

These personal projects have delivered unbelievable return and form the backbone of some of the most profitable deliverables that these companies have produced, through their “labs” or “hack-days” respectively.

I can hear you saying that it’s all right for these huge, profitable corporations to allow staff to spare their time for this, but I can assure that it really does make a difference as long as it’s not to the detriment of all of your other pressing deliverables (it’s also a brilliant palette cleanser for staff to work on in between large projects and to rev them up for their next major challenge).

There is a reason that the best and brightest go to such companies and it’s not just the resources or money available to them (they could get these in most places) but it’s mainly the collegiate culture in which they know that if they have a good idea, it will be recognised, nurtured and noticed right up to the boardroom (how may of us can really promise that to new recruits?).

I have often come across some of the best ideas or products in the strangest places (stop giggling at the back). The smallest conversations with colleagues or strangers can provide such a spark and be more profitable than the mundane act of trawling across endless conference floors getting your badge barcode zapped by smiling vendors promising to solve all of your problems whilst you pilfer any available freebies on their stand (we’ve all done it, right…?).

The difference is having the confidence to carry them through and the belief in your peers to believe and trust in you to do so. Social media is also making it easier by the day to find new products or services that you can follow up on. The social media marketplace is a real melting pot of products, innovations and ideas, with some shooting up and dying like cheap fireworks but if you scratch beneath the surface and mine the seams you will find some real gems.

The obvious winner is the quality or following of the idea and these will be the kingmakers of any new product or service that you provide. Having a great product but no following will cause it a quick and painful death and loss of face in the boardroom if you continue to push it: know when to move on, even with a bloodied nose.

I can’t say that we will be commuting in our personal flying saucers anytime soon, but one thing I do know about the future right now is that it’s going to be bumpy and that you have to be in it to win it.

Carpe diem.



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