Time for a change?

Standing still is definitely no longer an option when it comes to IT, warns Mark Samuels.

Mark Samuels

The Doctor's Surgery: Dr Mark Samuels, editor at advisory organisation CIO Connect, examines the future role of the IT leader in his monthly column.

CIOs spend a lot of time talking about change. Interview an IT leader, or turn up for an industry round table, and you can be sure that transformation will be the underlying or even the overlying theme.

There's good reason for the obsession with change. You only need to pop your head out the data centre to notice the front office transformation being enabled by IT. Internal workers and external customers are using all manner of devices and apps to communicate, collaborate and consume.

But while digital technology has changed the way most of us work and live, talk of the various tools that enable this transformation the cloud, consumer IT, Big Data and social media are often met by CIOs with a collective sigh of exasperation. While executives are eager to talk about change, they are also sick of hearing about the finer details of the digital revolution.

Change, you see, isn't about technology. True transformation comes from people using apps, clouds and data to alter business models. Smart CIOs recognise a focus on business-led change is already affecting the role of the IT leader. Modern CIOs must think business outcomes first, technology second (or even third or fourth).

Creating a business strategy in this age of transformation is not a one-size-fits all activity. A sluggishness to embrace technology, and eschew old ways of working is often portrayed, as a short cut to failure. But attempting to paint a picture of change is far subtler than a broad-brush activity.

Take retailing, for example. Woolworths struggled when online-only retailers, who were not restricted by the cost of maintaining a high street presence, provided more competitive deals. But this retail revolution also heightened consumer expectations. As a result, consumers now want products quicker.

Step forward Woolworths' long-time competitor Argos, who has been able to use its high street presence as a basis for quicker fulfilment. Consumers can click and collect their purchases within the day, something that would be impossible for most online-only retailers.

Then there's Screwfix, which started as a catalogue business but has since spent the past decade opening bricks and mortar stores. The retailer, which now has about 300 stores, also realised customers want products quickly. It would appear that "soon"in the digital age isn't really soon enough.

So, the reason CIOs are interested in change is that the businesses they serve, and the roles they undertake, are in a constant state of flux in the digital era. Just don't mention the technology behind the transformation.

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