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What CEOs really need from today’s CIOs

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Every CIO position description contains some semblance of the same 12 role requirements. This list, which they all know and love, defines what CEOs currently want in their CIOs. But to my mind, the list does not represent what CEOs actually need from their CIOs.

In today’s data economy, in which software and analytics have emerged as the key drivers of business, CEOs must rethink the silos and hierarchies that fuelled the businesses of the past. They can no longer have “technology people” who work independently from “data people” who work independently from “sales” people or from “finance.” 

Instead, they must helm organisations in which every employee embraces data and technology as integral to what they do.

And they need CIOs to help get them there. Because of this, redesigning the enterprise for the data economy is the chief remit CEOs have for today’s leading-edge CIOs.

Here’s what that takes:

From software and the business to software is the business

When Cargill started putting IoT sensors into shrimp ponds, then CIO Justin Kershaw realised that the $130 billion agricultural business was becoming a digital business

To help determine where IT should stop and IoT product engineering should start, Kershaw did not call CIOs of other food and agricultural businesses to compare notes. He called the CIOs of SAP and Microsoft and other software companies. He was reimagining the world’s largest agricultural business as a software company.

Modern delivery

If moving software from a supporting to a starring role is the what, then modern delivery is the how. Modern delivery is product (rather than project) management, agile development, small cross-functional teams that co-create, and continuous integration and delivery all with a new financial model that funds “value” not “projects.”

But don’t attempt to create a modern software development lifecycle (SDLC) on an industrial era infrastructure. The target architecture of the data economy is platform-based, cloud-enabled, uses APIs to connect to an external ecosystem, and breaks down monolithic applications into microservices

Wafaa Mamilli, chief information and digital officer of global animal health business Zoetis describes it well: “A platform model is more than architecture. It is a mindset that lets us zoom in to think vertically about how we deliver to the farmer, vet, and pet owner, and then zoom out to think horizontally about how to make the solutions reusable, scalable, and secure. 

“Platforms are modular, intelligent, and run algorithms that allow us to change very quickly. If we didn’t move to a platform approach, we would still be funding these huge programs.”

The democratisation of IT

If you give someone a fish, they eat for a day. If you teach them to fish, they eat for a lifetime. CIOs who deliver IT unto their hungry consumers are handing out fish. 

CIOs who use low-code/no-code platforms and new governance models to create self-service data capabilities are turning shadow IT into citizen developers who can fish for their own data. The hub-and-spoke model, with software and data engineering in IT, and super-user machine learning (ML) experts in the businesses, is emerging as the dominant model here.

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