Business transformation and strategic IT: putting the CIO to the test


The business world is changing, driven by shifts in the economy, technology, and society as a whole.

Globalisation, and the rise of the internet, are the two most commonly cited causes of this change. But for most businesses, the pressures they feel are less about scaling up to global reach or using internet technology, and more about how these issues have forced them to rapidly transform their business model or go-to-market strategy.

Social connection and global reach require new ways of thinking, new types of expertise, and a new competitive mindset. The force of transformation impacts IT and the data centre particularly hard: not only are their tools changing, but the business is being re-organised around them as well.

To look at the impact of these changes and the pressures faced, Colt commissioned independent research company Loudhouse to survey 503 technology decision makers in large firms (over 500 employees and over £1 million) in four European countries.

With 79% of respondents having experienced major business change that impacted IT in the last three years, business transformation is having a demonstrable impact. 

In line with the rapid pace of change, tech purchasing doesn’t stand still, just as no business can stand still and hope to survive. 66% of respondents in the research are currently in a state of strategic/operational transition – they are on the frontlines of operational change.

Amongst those who have had capacity planning problems in the past, the proportion experiencing business wide change is even higher – 70%.  The business world, and individual businesses are changing fast, and senior IT professionals are in a race to keep up.

Keeping IT in step

Infrastructure investments are large expenditures of business resources, and it’s not surprising that they can often be barriers to change.

In fact, infrastructure rarely moves at the same pace as the rest of the organisation.

Infrastructure investment often actually tends to follow two extreme paths. Either it can lag behind because of fear of large-scale change, or leap ahead of a traditional structure, as business leaders seek to deploy the newest and latest technology.

The larger the infrastructure, the more this is true, so larger businesses are susceptible to the biggest disconnect between infrastructure change and the overall pace of change in the business.   

In order to meet the objectives of the business as a whole, CIOs have to define the parameters for this pattern of ‘lag and lead’, without letting the infrastructure investments get too far separated from the business plans as a whole.  

This is a difficult balancing act, as evidenced by the level of error – 63% of businesses in the survey admitted to recent capacity planning errors.

The CIO’s pivotal role in managing technology transformation to benefit the business as a whole is readily apparent in the report and in other investigations of the same issues. 

For example, 29% of respondents to a 2013 Forrester Research survey believed the CIO to be the most important figure in terms of supporting and driving business change.

This was the highest amongst the C-suite responsibilities, including CEO (24%) and CTO, with 80% of [business transformation] work and activity falling under the role of the CIO.

Keeping transformational forces in balance

Business-wide transformational change is clearly on the agenda, with 69% of research respondents saying it drives CIO thinking.

CIOs have to be extremely aware of the business cycle in order to synchronise IT strategy with the plans of the business as a whole.

They also manage external drivers of change, such as regulations and competitor activity, and internal issues (M&A, or large-scale infrastructure innovations).

All of this takes place against a background of increasing workforce mobility, innovations in the workplace like BYOD and large-scale changes in IT delivery for the business.

Clearly, many businesses are having trouble keeping all of these forces in balance. Over a third (36%) report that they have challenges measuring ROI with appropriate yardsticks, and one in five say that their data centre structures are unable to keep pace with change. Businesses are changing fast and doing so under pressure.

With these pressures in mind, how can businesses move forward to successfully navigate transformation and successfully make use of technology? One of the most basic issues is internal information flow – without strong lines of communication between IT, the c-level, and other business functions, it is almost inevitable that technology decisions will become decoupled from business strategy.

This issue is particularly pressing as businesses look to make use of big data, and put the information they collect as a matter of course to better business use. Failure to coordinate means that valuable data just sits idle.

To address this issue, CIOs and other senior technologists need a regular ‘weather report’ on the state of their IT and how fit it is for their strategic goals.

This can help to avoid capacity planning errors, but also can help to limit the ‘drift’ that can happen when infrastructure decisions either lag or lead corporate strategy.

This will also allow a rethinking of timeframes, to accommodate the longer planning cycles most businesses are experiencing, and take advantage of the multiple opportunities for course correction they provide.

With business changing rapidly, this is vital: a change in external circumstances can mean that businesses may need to rapidly redirect their spending to new priorities. Weather reports can limit sunk costs and abandoned initiatives.

With data in hand and longer to plan, businesses can align capacity planning and strategic thinking. This is especially true if a wide range of business roles have input into technology decisions: IT, finance and compliance professionals, among others, can work together to make strategic technology planning decisions. 

In order to succeed in 2014 and beyond, businesses need to view their technology as a strategic tool, and work flexibly with providers to make sure their technology works with, rather than leads or lags, the rest of the business.

Business objectives need to always remain front and centre in this process, and CIOs can take the lead in making sure that business strategy and technology strategy work in tandem.  

Business transformation is putting IT and the data centre under pressure, but it also provides opportunities for those who are willing to focus on innovating for success.


Sourced from Matthew Gingell, director, Colt Data Centre Services

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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