Technology in the Workplace: The Role of the CIO

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Chief Information Officer

It’s predicted that by next year CIOs will be as important a part of workplace culture as HR leaders. Digital transformation is affecting not only our technological, but also our behavioural, expectations in the workplace.

Digital transformation isn’t restricted to the office. As we learned from the previous CIO insights piece, our expectations regarding access to technology in the workplace are affected by our experience outside of work.

The way people want to work is accelerating changes in business technology, which is putting pressure on businesses to keep pace. If employees aren’t provided with the best technology that enables them to perform, they will find and implement tech solutions of their own. The introduction of ‘shadow IT’ creates an unmanaged and disparate spread of technology tools that increase business costs and potential risks.

The way people want to work is accelerating changes in business technology, which is putting pressure on businesses to keep pace. Click To Tweet

Though the cloud has been around for a while, issues around security compatibility and versatility of access hindered adoption rates in its burgeoning years. The introduction of commercial services by the big players, followed by free open source platforms, improved accessibility and as redundancy improved, service delivery became more reliable. Today, cloud capability is rapidly enabling digital transformation in businesses of all sizes.

As more technology management is sucked into the cloud, requiring less in-house management, CIOs are forced to consider how this affects their role. Above implementing specific technology into a company’s infrastructure, the basic goal of the CIO is delivering profitability and value to the business. That’s often through the enablement of technology, which goes beyond buying licenses or implementing a VPN.

Two decades into the journey, many businesses are now having to revisit the infrastructure that underpins their digital transformation because it wasn’t approached holistically at the early stages. We’re re-learning the lesson that getting the foundation right is absolutely crucial.

One example of such an effect is the ‘lakes’ of data that don’t bring any value to the business because they come from systems that aren’t integrated. There’s a fundamental systems integration job to get the infrastructure right – a house-cleaning exercise – to be done, before businesses try to layer new technologies on top of an unreliable foundation. An opportunity exists for CIOs to address this uncertain foundation, as they are uniquely positioned to understand how technology can disrupt whole industries.

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A business’s approach to technology tends to hinge on the attitude of its board of directors. In days gone by, the dynamic would typically involve a CIO approaching the leadership team with a proposal for a technological solution, to receive a dismissive response along with the implication that the technology was simply a ‘nice to have’. This lack of engagement from leadership could lead to businesses falling behind in terms of technological enablement and therefore struggling to remain competitive in the marketplace.

It’s therefore paramount for the CIO as advocate of technological enablement to build trust with the C-suite in order to increase chances of buy-in. Investigating how technology can help make business more competitive is also a risk management exercise; too many organisations have only a ‘plan A’, which is a risky position to be in. Given the volatility of some markets and economies, not having a ‘plan B’ can be catastrophic for a business.

The role of the CIO, in this respect, is to enable the success of the business. The question of business enablement comes before the answer of technology. Questions such as, “How do I enable collaboration?” and “How do I facilitate margin?” are addressed by the CIO in terms of addressing workflows and minimising cost by incorporating efficient tools. The ultimate consideration is, “How do I enable people’s success and get their problems out of the way?”

One trick in encouraging the C-suite to adapt its approach to technology in the workplace is to encourage it to recognise that employees are customers of the business. Empowering a workforce isn’t just about choosing an effective tool, it’s about evaluating an entire workflow and reimagining it with more enabling tools in mind. The needs of the workforce, as well as the requirements of the project, must be taken into consideration. 

Becoming a ‘digital business’ is the result of the interaction of people, place and technology, of all these aspects coming together. This is where the CIO’s role is expanded and goes hand in hand with workplace culture. Rather than becoming obsolete, CIOs can become more critical than ever to a business’s operation. RingCentral CMO Amritesh Chaudhari expects the CIO to evolve into the CXO: Chief Experience Officer. As the main concern is to understand and respond to how tools and systems help employees perform better, the responsibility inevitably includes understanding what a workforce needs in order to perform better.

This is a complicated and challenging facet as it requires understanding people’s individuality as well as how they can work together as a contiguous whole. Understanding people isn’t traditionally the remit of a CIO, but is a crucial element of a modern business’s people operations policy. Understanding a situation is the first step to changing it – the solution comes later.

For more insights on the evolution of technology in the workplace, read the ebook or watch the full discussion below.

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Originally published Jun 11, 2020, updated Jan 17, 2023

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