Managing Identities

CIOs: challenge the IT status quo if you want your leader’s ear

By: Jos Creese
Published: Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - 15:13 GMT Jump to Comments

Public sector CIOs need to champion new ways of working if they are to enable their organisations to bridge the gap between digital opportunities and the demands facing government.

Research published by Eduserv in its new report, Government, technology and the language of business change, suggests that a significant and worrying disconnect exists between the perspectives of the IT function, and that of senior executives, on the role of digital in future business strategies.

This chimes with discussions I’ve had with chief executives and chief financial officers at recent digitally-focused events, underlining the fact that CIOs and business leaders have differing perspectives on what is needed to deliver real transformation.

A decade ago it was probably fair to say that certain senior executives, particularly finance chiefs, were positively scared by IT – its risks, its costs and its failure to regularly give a tangible return on investment. Today, while senior non-IT leaders better understand the potential power of IT to transform their organisations, they remain unsure on how to do it in practice. They are not confident that their IT teams are keeping pace.

The Eduserv research, which surveyed senior leaders in government on progress towards digital, found a shocking 90% believe that IT is not yet working effectively with department leads to meet needs and support change. Leaders are simply not confident that IT can deliver, and they see a continuing mismatch between service priorities and how IT resources are used in practice. Indeed, more than 75% report that their organisation does not yet have an IT strategy aligned to future needs.

It gets worse: less than two thirds of senior managers are supportive of IT service delivery, and more than 75% say their employees don’t understand the importance of IT. This is at odds with the positive mood of local public service IT leaders at the recent Socitm 2015 conference. Here, IT chiefs were expressing confidence in their ability to deliver, blaming lack of senior buy-in, leadership, and resources for holding back IT and digital transformation in their organisations.

It is hard to ignore the conclusion that public sector CIOs are not currently close enough to the senior leaders they serve, and consequently do not have their confidence. The onus is on IT leaders to change that relationship. They must ensure that, as a starting point, all of the following actions are underway.

They must deal with the high volume of IT resources currently being invested in legacy IT. The research shows that leaders want IT investment better targeted in the future as opposed to propping up the past. Legacy applications that are not adaptable to a digital model should be gradually starved of investment and switched off.

There is a need to challenge and renegotiate IT contracts, if they are no longer fit for purpose. They must support the modernisation of public services. It’s not enough to wait for contracts to run out if they are holding back change.

It will be necessary to work with CFOs to script business cases for change. It can be hard to ascertain, especially in the establishment stage, how to measure and manage risks. A partnership between CFO and CIO is essential.

Rewriting IT strategies is also important. They must be simpler and connected, as well as measurable with business outcomes. They must also define a smaller core IT activity and systems with lower operational overheads. This will allow for more disposable and user-driven apps. There must also be a focus on integrated platforms, but not the over-complicated architectures that we’ve seen in the past. They should be simple, open and with data independent from systems.

Establishing a fundamentally different method for IT development must also be taken into account. Design, delivery and build – e.g. agile with co-production, rather than methods such as Prince2 and ‘waterfall’ development methods.

Many CIOs will have initiated much of this already. Some, though, are still too focused on maintaining the status quo of existing infrastructure services. They are not comfortable tackling powerful suppliers, or risking systems stability by replacing core components. However, if CIOs really want to bridge the gap between the digital opportunity and the demands facing government, they must be prepared to champion a new operating model for IT, and lead the drive towards new ways of working.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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