Strategic CIOs embrace emerging technologies for competitive advantage

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“78 percent of the CEOs responding to PwC’s 2016 US CEO Survey said they were somewhat or extremely concerned about the rapid pace of technology change.”

They’re right to be. Four macro technology trends — social, mobility, cloud and information (or data) — have formed a perfect storm. A leading information technology research company even has a name for it: the "Nexus of Forces," the “convergence and mutual reinforcement of four interdependent trends which empower individuals as they interact with each other and their information.”

Already these forces have disrupted existing business models. They’ve also recast the relationship between IT, the wider organization, and its customers. The rise of new technologies that fundamentally reshape the way businesses operate and engage with their customers is relentless. At the same time, these forces represent a significant opportunity to innovate - to improve efficiency and provide differentiated customer experiences, even in highly competitive markets.

Enterprise organizations across the world are recognizing that IT has become an enabler of business imperatives and a key force in driving innovation and new ways of working. As a direct result, boards now want IT at the table, advising them on strategic business investments.

That may not sound like a radical change – but it is. Not long ago IT was invited to the discussion late, as an enabler and implementer of a strategy already conceived and approved. Business strategy and IT strategy have historically been separate entities. Now, leading organizations are rightly merging them. IT is joining finance, marketing and human capital to develop and execute strategy that drives profitability. IT is playing a central role in generating revenue and managing costs. That makes IT strategy inseparable from the organization’s wider business development strategy.

Not long ago, the job of the CIO was to amass computer power – appropriate capacity and speeds at optimum cost. The CIO managed the server farm. Today, many functions and processes are outsourced. Combined with an exponential growth in cloud computing, that change means CIOs no longer need to spend precious time and resources managing capacity. Standardized cloud-based technology has reduced costly maintenance and integration work. The time and money once spent keeping the lights on and tweaking the servers for maximum speed can now be invested – more wisely – to enhance business value and differentiate products and services. IT can focus on creating new business opportunities, or at least on accelerating those opportunities that arise.

Changing CIO roles and responsibilities

The CIO has a traditional set of responsibilities as the head of technology that include: setting the tone at the top for IT community, shaping and driving the organization’s technology strategy, making IT governance decisions, mentoring high potential talent and collaborating with leadership teams to enable alignment with IT strategy.

But the CIO role is evolving. In boardrooms across the country, directors are discovering that having a visionary, business-savvy CIO as a part of the executive team can create a competitive advantage.

Organizations know they’ll never take the lead by waiting for the next wave of technology to arrive and then adapting to it. Strategic CIOs look beyond the horizon at emerging technology they can use to reshape business processes or revolutionize client interactions.

A business-savvy CIO can collaborate with peer executives to incorporate technology-enabled business objectives into the overall business strategy. With a seat at the table, the strategic CIO can introduce emerging technology opportunities, suggest new business models, and make recommendations accordingly.

Philip Garland is a Partner at PwC and serves as Chief Information Officer for the US firm. In this capacity, Mr. Garland is responsible for the design and enhanced technology infrastructure for the future, improving the user experience and ensuring that technology appropriately aligns with and enables the firm’s businesses and  strategic support functions.