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What’s on your CIO’s priority list?

Stay aligned with the constantly evolving responsibilities of your Chief Information Officer.

Since I’m a freelance journalist who mainly works from home, Take Your Kid To Work Day would be a washout for my seven-year-old. I can just see his teacher questioning him the day after. “So Ben, what does your mom do at work?”

“Hmm … she sits at the dining room table, sometimes in her pajamas. And types. A lot. And asks people questions on the phone.” (Awkward pause.) “That’s about it.”

I imagine it’s even harder for a kid whose parent is a Chief Information Officer. Not because CIOs engage in too much pajama-clad typing, but because it’s tougher than ever to answer the question, ‘What does a CIO do?’

The CIO’s roles and responsibilities have changed dramatically over the past decade, and continue to evolve very quickly. What hasn’t changed, however, is a CIO’s role in setting IT priorities for their business. 

Top CIO priorities right now

IT World Canada (ITWC) surveyed CIOs in Canada, Britain and the U.S. last year to get more insight into these C-level priorities. According to the findings, the top day-to-day priorities among Canadian CIOs include:

  1. Data security/privacy
  2. Uptime/reliability
  3. Disaster recovery
  4. Business innovation
  5. Managing budgetary requirements

Security is clearly a biggie, topping lists of many CIOs. It was ranked as the number one IT concern for 2017 when IDC surveyed Canadian businesses at the end of 2016. Security also grabbed second place when Robert Half Technology asked 270 Canadian CIOs to name their overall priorities for the first six months of 2017.

The report also noted the surprising fourth priority of "business innovation" — indicating that the landscape of IT has changed, making innovation a driving force for many CIOs.

"Even in the hustle and bustle of daily activity, the idea that innovation is now at the forefront of daily challenges is astonishing and perhaps indicative of how important business innovation has become to IT."

Most wanted skills for new IT teams

Which areas of technology are Canadian CIOs focusing on this year? We can get an idea by looking at the top five priorities CIOs have for their IT hiring, also reported in the ITWC survey:

  1. Enterprise application development
  2. Big data/BI/analytics
  3. Mobile app development
  4. Business analysis
  5. IT project management

As this list illustrates, analytics is an important priority for CIOs. Besides ranking high in the survey, BI/analytics is a significant area of investment planned for 2017 when Gartner asked almost 2,600 CIOs in 93 countries.

Do CIOs have the right staff & budgets?

To turn their IT priorities into reality, CIOs need two crucial ingredients: money and talent.

The money picture is looking upbeat. Without supplying an exact figure, IDC predicts “2017 will see stronger (Canadian) IT spending growth than in 2016.” Further, they expect a "sustained double digit growth" in third platform technologies — an area focused on digital transformation and revolutionizing the way companies do business with each other and their customers. These technologies include mobile, cloud, social and big data.

Unfortunately, the talent forecast isn’t as rosy. Just four per cent of CIOs in the Robert Half study are looking to fill newly created jobs that didn’t exist before. Still, eighty-five per cent are focused on filling existing IT positions, indicating that gaps in IT departments may still be filled — that is, if the talent is available. As noted by IDC Canada’s group VP of Research, Tony Olvet, Canadian companies face a severe tech talent crunch.

     Related: Canada needs 185,000 more ICT workers          

Discovering 'the new CIO' 

The story is coming together. Today’s CIOs are eyeing security and analytics technology, and they may have more room in their budget to invest in them, but can’t find enough of the right talent to pull it all off.

On top of that is the new direction the modern CIO is headed. And it’s quite a sharp turn from the traditional view of IT’s role as merely ‘keeping the lights on.’

As defined in Gartner’s 2017 CIO Agenda Report, today’s CIOs “must reevaluate leadership priorities, engage stakeholders and involve them across digital initiatives … (and be) panoramic thinkers (who) look for opportunity in every direction, cultivate diverse partnerships and question the value propositions and business models of the past.”

That's all? Phew!

Although this idea of aligning IT with business has been around for a while, some fascinating insights from Info-Tech Research suggest CIOs may be further away from that goal than they think.

Do CIOs and CEOs see eye to eye?

To see just how well IT is aligned with business, Info-Tech surveyed more than 250 CEOs and CIOs, 29,000 business unit managers and 2,500 IT team leaders and workers. The findings, presented at last year’s Canadian CIO Peer Forum, were not very encouraging.

  • 49 per cent of CIOs/CEOs are not aligned when it comes to evaluating IT’s current performance
  • 67 per cent of CIOs/CEOs are not clear on the target role for IT
  • In five different categories, CIOs feel business isn’t giving them the direction, funding, project guidance, employee participation or C-suite leadership that IT requires
  • 74 per cent of CEOs want CIOs to do a better job of reporting metrics on IT’s business value and stakeholder satisfaction

For CIOs, there’s a disconnect between “what you think you should be doing versus what your CEO thinks you should be doing,” Senior Info-Tech VP James Alexander told the Peer Forum.

How come business and IT still aren’t on the same page? One strong clue comes from ITWC’s CIO survey, which declares that “a perennial aspiration … for most CIOs (is) to be more than a technologist and become a strategic partner with a seat at the executive table.”

Yet in that same survey, only 28.5 per cent of Canadian CIOs say they are “always” included in executive meetings. No matter what their top priorities are, can CIOs really achieve them without a seat (literally and figuratively) at the table?

As for me, I'll keep an eye on these shifting landscapes from my seat at the dining room table where my kid watches me type, make calls and report on the changes in tech.

Up Next: Learn about the demands on Canada's IT workforce and how 218,000 ICT roles need to be filled.

Canada needs 218,000 more ICT workers

Christine Wong

Christine Wong is a journalist based in Toronto who has covered a wide range of startups and technology issues. A former staff writer with ITBusiness.ca, she has also worked as a reporter for the Canadian Economic Press and in broadcast roles at SliceTV and the CBC.

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