In the past, technology was an operational issue only and rarely a discussion topic for the board. As a result, many CIOs have struggled to be part of strategic business planning. The ambition has always been there, but the perception that they are narrowly IT focused has often counted against them.

This is beginning to change – CIOs are definitely starting to get their feet under the table. Just under two-thirds of respondents to a recent survey, polling the views and opinions of 200 CIOs and IT Directors, said they sat on their company’s board of directors.

Yet, how much of this is cosmetic? Has their function really changed? It appears that most IT Directors and CIOs remain squarely focused on IT challenges and not necessarily on linking the resolution of those challenges with the ability to move the business forward. Only around one-third of the overall sample said they saw ‘driving growth through technology’ as their most important responsibility.

Perhaps more significantly, only 11% said they mainly focus on developing strategic concepts through IT to move their organisation forward. This compares to 46% whose everyday tasks mainly involve’ fire-fighting ‘- that is, IT management and keeping systems up and running.

The issue is that many CIOs are simply too busy being pulled from one problem to another, frustrated at having to deal with everything from fulfilling board demands for cost-efficiencies and cost-cutting (33%) to security (44%) and data management issues (60%).

The need to focus on keeping the lights on is preventing CIOs from exerting any influence over how the business is run. At a strategic level, it is a job that is still mainly defined in IT terms and they simply do not have the time to shift to a broader business focus.

Keeping The Lights On

In one sense, the survey findings are no surprise. ICT has become the ultimate enabler and when it goes wrong, senior decision-makers are fully aware of the costs of downtime from sales opportunities missed to lost productivity and damage to the brand.

Even a short outage can be fatal for some businesses. So it’s not really a revelation that keeping systems up and running is high on the priority list for most CIOs. What is much more surprising is that many CIOs are still trying to take everything on themselves, to do it all in-house.

ICT demands in-depth knowledge of telephony, networking, storage and applications. It’s impossible for all but the largest enterprises to hold that expertise in house.

The obvious answer is to outsource. By moving to a managed services approach, businesses can not only benefit from time and cost savings, but if they choose the right partner, they will gain access to a specialist team who know these technologies inside out and can bring added value through sharing that expertise.

Here is where they will find the real value – and reap most reward – because, at the same time, CIOs can then exploit the opportunity to refocus IT time and expertise on the creative ideas and innovative thinking that will address real operational challenges and which will help drive the future of the organisations for which they work.