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In our first year partnering with Harvey Nash on the Global CIO Survey, we have been fascinated by the diversity of the CIOs and senior IT leaders who have participated in the research, and the complexity of the environment in which they are operating.

Without doubt, it is a challenging and fast-moving time to be a CIO but, as the survey shows, it is also a rewarding time.

There is a collective message that emerges from the CIO community in 2012, and that message is around growth. As CIOs, and the IT departments they are responsible for, look beyond the recession they are increasingly putting aside their operational concerns, and focusing on the board-led priorities of growth and innovation.

At the same time we have seen an explosion in the demand for data; not just in absolute numbers but also where it is demanded, how it is used and how it is delivered. The growth in demand for increasingly rich and complex media, such as social networking, mobile computing, IP telephony, video or cloud computing, is creating an ‘always on’ expectation in businesses and consumers alike.

High expectations indeed. And no small task for a CIO to deal with.

Complex choices

So CIOs are faced with an increasingly complex business and technology environment, and they need to respond accordingly. Growth and innovation requires new skills, new investment and the infrastructure and operations that can support IT in an increasingly complex and data rich environment.

Outsourcing, of course, has been one tool available to CIOs for some time to help IT departments deal with their growth agenda. But successful outsourcing requires careful planning. Some CIOs look to outsource activity they feel is non core so they can focus on growth; others outsource activity that is vital to growth because it is only through outsourcing that they attain the appropriate skills. Both outcomes require CIOs who are expert at relationship building and working as part of a coalition to achieve success.

It is therefore pleasing to note the outcome of Harvey Nash’s decade long research that confirms outsourcing is best utilised as a value added partner, working together to achieve strategic objectives, rather than as a low cost solution where non core activities are simply dumped overseas.

Given the growth environment within which CIOs are operating, and the need to maximise return on investment, reliable outsourcing partners who can quickly understand a client’s mission and then deliver value to help realise their ambition are key.

The future CIO and the IT department they lead

CIOs, of course, have been making complex choices for years. Perhaps more than any other business function, the IT department has undergone radical change in the last decade.

And what this report shows is that the change continues. The recession has forced many IT departments to become leaner, but now as CEOs and CIOs alike search for growth, the challenge will be to stay both lean, and keen. It’s interesting then to see from the report that it’s actually in the period of recovery immediately after the apex of a recession that outsourcing spend tends to increase. And as a data centre services provider it’s certainly something that we are experiencing first hand at TelecityGroup; CIOs and CEOs tend to come to us with a growth strategy in one hand, and a cost management strategy in the other, and we work hard to help enable them to meet these strategic objectives.

There’s also something more subtle that emerges from the Survey. As IT departments evolve, so too do the people. Much has been made of IT departments becoming ‘closer to the business’ and it is evident from the report that business analyses and liaison skills have become increasingly important. But it’s even more than that. The DNA of the IT department is changing, and increasingly the need for the IT department to become more representative of the internal and external customers it serves is becoming key. With only seven percent of CIOs being female, there is some way to go.

Final thought

As boards look beyond the recession seeking new ways to grow and innovate in an increasingly complex, data rich world, the role of the CIO has never been more important. There is, of course, no ‘rule book’ about exactly how the CIO should respond, but one thing is for sure: the role of the suppliers to partner with the CIO to provide cost effective, responsive solutions will continue to remain key.

It’s an exciting place to be.

Michael Tobin
Chief Executive Office