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Catch 22: The changing role of the CIO

James Dartnell | Jan. 21, 2015
Chief Information Officers in the Middle East are hamstrung by a seemingly never-ending Catch 22. The last ten years has seen IT change from the department that takes care of technology to exclusively support the business, into an era where CIOs and IT managers are increasingly expected to help achieve competitive advantage.

Chief Information Officers in the Middle East are hamstrung by a seemingly never-ending Catch 22. The last ten years has seen IT change from the department that takes care of technology to exclusively support the business, into an era where CIOs and IT managers are increasingly expected to help achieve competitive advantage.

While senior stakeholders within a company demand innovation, and that a business is equipped to meet mercurial demands, the reality for IT departments is that 80 percent of budgets are currently directed towards 'keeping the lights on', with the remainder of cash left for innovation projects. It is no easy task, driving a business' objectives with a fraction of your financial resources. That's the reality facing the CIOs of 2015, meaning mere technical expertise no longer suffices; these IT heads now have to be shrewd businesspeople and strategists, and increasingly central figures within an organisation.

Stephen Fernandes, Assistant Vice President and Head of Middle East, Cognizant, empathises with the position that many CIOs are in, "Today, IT organisations across many enterprises feel that they are in a bind," he says. "On the one hand, they are required to optimise budgets in response to macroeconomic factors, budgets that already have very little room for additional trimming. On the other hand, business and end-users are looking for differentiation and productivity gains from investment in, and implementation of, new technology. The big question they face is: How can IT deliver the goods without the budget to do so? The answer is in IT's ability to create its own discretionary budget, in 'self-funding' the transition."

There exists a school of thought that says that if the CIO is becoming more of a service broker, then they should be more reluctant to do the day-to-day 'dirty work' that could otherwise be automated. Although this requires initial investment in certain areas, the intangible man hours that can be saved are hugely beneficial to an IT arm. Cherif Sleiman, General Manager, Middle East, Infoblox, believes that these leaders need to have a change in mindset to bring a new kind of value to the business. "CIOs have to shift their time and expensive resources from doing routine mundane tasks towards high value tasks like planning, design and strategy tasks," he says. "The first thing CIOs need to do is deploy IT tools that they have ignored for a long time that take a lot of the regular tasks away such as network automation tools. For example, IT departments are now realising that they have to move from the traditional ad-hoc approach to controlling and managing their networks to a more automated and controlled mechanism that minimises risk and increases compliance."

 

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