For many businesses, the traditional role of the CIO is to help drive the company’s business strategy forward through the appropriate application of technology to automate processes, reduce costs and open up access to new markets and opportunities. There are many challenges facing IT leaders ranging from mobile working to security and data protection.

Unfortunately, most of the people working in the IT department today are primarily occupied with maintaining and updating existing systems, or working hard just to ‘keep the lights on’, so to speak. If they are not doing routine work of this nature then they are typically fire-fighting as entropy sets in to existing systems and processes making them fail as they become outdated.

This means that most people working in IT are working reactively and it’s no surprise they are finding it difficult to do more with an ever decreasing IT budget. The result for most IT departments is that they are now being challenged by their business leaders who do not believe that IT is serving them sufficiently to help meet their corporate goals. Having recently conducted a survey of 360 senior IT managers across every sector of UK enterprise, I discovered that 60% of managers cite administration and trouble shooting as the main time consumers within their jobs.

Now is the time to begin to challenge this poor application of important resources and ensure that the role the IT department plays is securing business success by accelerating the execution of business objectives. So the big question for CIOs and their IT people is how do you move from being seen as the maintenance team to a key strategic enabler?

Why IT matters

Despite the fact that IT can be harnessed to provide an important driving force for any organisation, 44% of IT managers feel that they are not consulted on business issues because senior managers see them as the maintenance engineers. This is because they are often locked into the hardware and software upgrade and maintenance cycle, an area proving to be increasingly challenging with dwindling budgets. This cycle is holding them and their business leaders back from realising their potential.

This is not helped by the fact that many managers still feel that IT vendors do not really understand small and medium sized companies in the UK, or have a workable business model to match their needs. Historically, the mid-market has been neglected by the larger vendors, mainly because it was seen as more desirable to focus on large enterprises. There has been a recent shift in attention but it’s not nearly enough.

11% of respondents in the survey said they are already using managed services that are hosted by a third party and this is providing them with the platform they need to get more the existing IT resources they already have and freeing them up from the undesirable day-to-day tasks to focus more on activity that adds value to the business. This is the strategic and innovative focus that 53% of IT Managers believe their role should be about.

Blending IT with Cloud Computing Services

For some businesses, managed services, delivered via a cloud computing platform are the only way they can afford to deliver new services to their staff. However, many businesses are unsure how to link hosted services and integrate them with existing systems and 38% of IT managers in UK SMEs are challenged by the ‘perceived’ loss of control.

Business leaders want their IT to be better, faster and cheaper, and technology needs to provide the platform that delivers business agility, aiding organisations to focus their existing people and resources where they need them most. To do this they must align IT resources to the business strategy, not just the pursuit of keeping the lights on so existing systems don’t fail. This is an opportunity for everyone concerned, although it is often preferred to be seen as the exact opposite. As time and money becomes more stretched the warped view that could computing is a threat to IT department is now beginning to be understood.

In smaller businesses, IT departments do not always have expert and specialist skills or the budget to take on new solutions and support them. Cutting costs is still the big issue for many UK SMEs and to do this many are now turning to Cloud Computing services that provide easy access to enterprise grade solutions with no hardware or software to buy. The services are in fact delivered as services that are easy to use and pay for, at a low and predictable monthly per user fee.

It’s a great way to cut out the drain of capital from the business. One of the key benefits of cloud computing is the on-demand aspect, meaning that businesses only pay for the services they consume. This means the expenditure is seen can be accounted for as an operation expense, which is usually much more desirable.

These services are appealing because they can be delivered securely to any employee, wherever they are and at anytime. Deploying the right technologies to the business without having to recruit more IT people is a great advantage.

Seeking operational excellence

Every CEO and CFO wants and expects excellence from the IT investments that they sign off. At the very least they want to ensure that any operational and financial risks are mitigated. What is often taken for granted is how difficult it is to run IT systems with the required power and cooling, not to mention the right level of security to ensure the environment is kept safe and enough resiliency and back up systems to ensure business continuity.

What many of them are now realising is that their data and applications are much safer and better provisioned when they are hosted in a professionally run third party data centre and wrapped around with a solid Service Level Agreement. This is in stark contract to when their business critical systems are hastily cobbled together from their own facilities that simply can’t compete with the level of investment and sophistication on offer from a managed service provider.

As more business leaders push their IT departments down this route the role of the CIO is now becoming one of managing relationships rather than managing technology and getting lost in the detail. This is an exciting proposition as cloud computing is freeing up IT professionals to be and think more strategically and off-load the donkey to someone who can do it better, faster and cheaper, allowing them to focus on the key aspects that differentiate the business from its competitors. This is the real role of the the chief information (or ‘Innovation’) officer.