The CIO Strikes Back: Meet Your New Business Leader

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Don’t count out the role of the CIO.

As Vikrant Karnik discussed in his blog, recent years have not been kind to the CIO. For a moment, it felt like the digitally native CDO could mark the end of his or her role, but recent developments suggest the opposite is happening. Instead, a new breed of leader is emerging.

To survive, CIOs are becoming digital enablers—visionaries, even. Our new research into cloud-native adoption—check out Cloud native comes of age —shows that the organizations reaping the biggest benefits are those that are furthest ahead in going to the cloud, and it’s the CIO who is driving this success. 84% of leading respondents say that migrating app development to a cloud-native architecture has increased their revenue and reduced operating costs, while 67% report increased business velocity. You’d think the case for cloud native speaks for itself, but it hasn’t been an easy ride for CIOs, and it won’t be for others who wish to follow suit.

The CIO: old school vs. new school

The role of CIO has traditionally focused on IT cost and asset management, the person the board quietly relies upon to keep company tech ticking smoothly. But such a narrow approach is simply untenable in 2017. Cloud-based solutions have eclipsed traditional monolithic architectures, and the CIOs that fail to keep up are only feeding the rise of CDOs. But that’s not to say CIOs don’t have an ace up their sleeve. Cloud native offers greater business velocity, scalability, and flexibility, but it also demands significant upfront investment and far-reaching transformation. Given that CIOs have typically been looked upon to balance the books and keep IT costs down, it can be a hard sell. That’s why CIOs need to reinvent themselves as digital enablers—the kind of leader whose judgment earns the complete confidence of their peers.

Facing cultural resistance

In the survey, 65% of respondents agreed that migrating to cloud native is a significant cultural challenge. To get all the survey results, and expert analysis of what they mean for the future of your business, download the full research report here.

This is understandable—ingrained cultures are hard to change. The waterfall development approach for monolithic applications is the antithesis of the agile development or DevOps model that underpins continuous delivery with a modular, microservices architecture.

The CIO is left with no choice but to get hands on. They must become pragmatic leaders. Brian Sondergaard, CIO at Fiserv, faced this issue first-hand as he began to spearhead the shift to cloud-native. Getting staff to “un-learn” existing practices proved particularly trying:

“We have very strong, organizational practices that have been tried and trusted over a number of years. Now, we’re going in and changing something that is fundamentally a core capability of the company, relied upon to avoid risk and maximize quality. That’s very uncomfortable.”

Ultimately, Fiserv achieved its goal of cloud-native migration under Brian’s leadership. He acknowledged that things needed to happen gradually, allowing for confidence to build across the business and encourage a culture of learning. And the result? “[Our] clients’ confidence is growing, our partners’ confidence is growing, and we’re seeing that the new model is working.”

Rounding up skills and support

Another barrier facing CIOs is locating the skill needed to develop cloud-native apps, with a lack of relevant skills cited by 70% of survey respondents as the most significant challenge.

PaaS is a significant upfront investment for cloud-native migration, and its architecture and benefits are new to many developers.The vice president of technical services at a US restaurant chain told us: “those qualities [performance, scalability, and location transparency] aren’t necessarily inherent in the mindset of application developers today.”

But that’s not to say it’s entirely the developers’ fault. The survey showed a disconnect in skills, with only 23% of respondents seeking external support when implementing PaaS. This suggests that these skills are in short supply, something a proactive CIO will need to remedy.

At Royal Mail, CIO Catherine Doran and IT portfolio director Alex Lorke faced similar challenges. ‘Digital Labs’, Royal Mail’s own cloud-native development solution took months of chipping away at the senior management to get off the ground:

“For the first year, when we did this [Digital Labs], we were actively going against the preferred way of working in the organization. We had to demonstrate how we could do this without putting the organization at risk.”

And demonstrate they did. Both Catherine and Alex stepped to the mark, resolving the skill drought through a hybrid of internal training, supplier partnerships and external hires. As for utilizing PaaS, Alex was anything but passive: “When we created the digital labs, I put my foot down and said all application development will be done on PaaS, mainly because of the advantages it offers in managing application scalability.”

Marching forward

Increased flexibility, scalability, security and business velocity—these are all goals any business leader can understand and get behind. Financially, 84% of leading respondents report an increase in overall revenue and reduction in development costs. What executive would argue with results like that?

With a cloud-native strategy, CIOs can take their rightful place alongside the rest of the board—as equals, as enablers, and as leaders.

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