CIOs: Gatekeepers to the digital enterprise?

April 7, 2016
CIOs: Gatekeepers to the digital enterprise?

The CIO’s approach is a determining factor in unlocking employees’ digital skills

Guest post: by Joe Baguley, CTO EMEA, VMware

There’s no denying we’re living in a world of digital disruption, with businesses under constant pressure to adapt in order to remain relevant. Established businesses, long considered to hold all the power, are now living in fear of today’s start-up culture as small and agile organisation prove, time and time again, that no industry is immune to change.

At its heart is the broadening influence of ‘digital skills’. Men and women of all ages are becoming digital-first and discovering new ways of working and communicating, which they are keen put to use in both their personal and professional lives. From using web analytics, to building a following on one of the many social platforms, or learning how to code – the digital revolution has extended far beyond the reach of the IT department.

Despite this enthusiasm for the digital world, VMware research[1] recently found that less than half (48 per cent) of today’s workforce believe they have the opportunity to fully use their digital skills within their organisations. And yet, it is these very skills that will help companies to innovate faster and fully engage customers.

Age is No Obstacle

It is important to remember that many employees enjoy learning new digital skills and finding ways of working that will drive productivity in the business, so much that almost two thirds (64 per cent) are willing to use their own time to do this. As further evidence of this appetite, 39 per cent of 45-54 year olds are seeking advice or training on designing and building mobile applications, and almost a third (31 per cent) of 55 year olds and over doing the same for coding and creating online content. So what is stopping them from taking their enthusiasm for digital and using it in their jobs?

When asked what they thought was stopping their organisations from embracing digital, employees pointed to a range of factors, including: digital not being integrated into personal objectives (51 per cent), lack of budget (43 per cent) and company policies being too restrictive (39 per cent).

But beyond these barriers, they identified another important factor, which can significantly hinder digital progress in business: the company’s IT. In fact, 40 per cent of employees in EMEA[2] believe they are not able to make the most of their digital skills due to a lack of support from IT. The reality is that too many employees still find themselves working within rigid structures where they can’t collaborate instantly, can’t get access to any application on any device, and can’t move at the pace needed to compete with more nimble players.

The CIO Opportunity

Many employees see the IT department as the area of the business that should be most responsible for driving new ways of working, with 34 per cent of respondents deeming it most responsible, compared to the MD/CEO (19 per cent) or the Board (16 per cent). With this in mind, it may be time for CIOs to step up to the challenge of helping their businesses to unlock employees’ digital skills.

Of course, this is not a simple task. For a start, the IT department has its own talent attraction and acquisition challenges. According to Heads of IT, digital is crucial to the functioning of the modern IT department – especially as increasing amounts of processes and operations become automated. As part of this digital focus, CIOs recognise the importance of building a balanced team with both technical and collaborative skills, but those with the right balance of skills are not always readily available.

Opening the Path to Innovation

Alongside this need for the right skills, running IT within today’s digital environment is demanding and complex, with data security a key priority.  That explains why 43 per cent of employees believe the existing IT infrastructure is stifling their company’s ability to innovate.

In today’s mobile cloud era, employees need constant access to data, from any device at any time to be effective, as well as a secure, agile environment.

There are ways to achieve this. Even businesses from cautious, regulated industries are starting to push the boundaries forward with digital technology, to help them innovate like a start-up and execute like an enterprise.

For instance, the banking group ING built a hybrid cloud, (one consistent environment across the private and public cloud) to rapidly develop and deliver cloud-native and traditional applications. This brought them the agility to move fast and introduce innovative new services, while at the same time remaining secure and compliant.

Creating Change

Innovation aside, technology alone is not going to reinvent the digital enterprise. There is also a question of cultural change. Unfortunately, only half (50 per cent) of employees say senior management currently encourages the use of new ways of working in the organisation. To be successful as a digitally led business IT and senior management need to work together, bringing in trusted advisory partners, to rethink their IT, processes and operations while ensuring security and control.

As digital businesses gather pace and increasingly threaten the status quo, the importance of digital talent for providing new ideas and disrupting (and improving) old processes will no doubt increase. Despite its challenges, this quest to lead a new digital age can be empowering for CIOs today.  By selecting the right tools, influencing the organisation’s cultural approach and nurturing internal talent, both within and outside the IT team, they can help to shape the future competitiveness of an organisation, while protecting its data, customers and reputation.

[1] Vanson Bourne polled 5,700 office workers who regularly access data or information via the web, in companies with 100+ employees in EMEA during August 2015, on behalf of VMware.

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