Top 5 Takeaways from Northern Ireland CIOs

At our most recent CIO Club in Belfast, there was little disagreement on the challenges that 2016 will bring for Northern Ireland’s CIOs and where their role is headed. No matter the industry, CIOs share the same concerns and challenges but are at different points in their journey on finding the best way to tackle them. Our chair for the discussion, Andy O’Kelly, Chief Architect at eir Business, shares his key takeaways from the evening.

Last week, we hosted a dinner with some of Northern Ireland’s top CIOs and had some very interesting discussions around the key challenges for 2016 and Northern Ireland’s readiness to tackle them. While the CIOs around the table represented different verticals, each and every one shared a common challenge: how to better align IT with the business.

Only one company represented had shifted budgetary weight from traditional ‘lights on’ activity to Transformation, and that company is primarily online focussed and relatively unencumbered by ‘heritage’ IT. Everyone else struggled to get to 40% transformation, and in the worst case this was lower than 20%. In the latter case, this has led to the bulk of work being centred on cost-reduction measures, and the profile of IT being visible only in the context of service failures. If CIOs are to devote time to driving that business change they need to avoid getting bogged down in their daily responsibilities running corporate IT. This is the challenge faced by most. Shifting focus and budget to more impactful innovation was seen as a primary responsibility of the CIO role: selling – and delivering – the value of IT to the CEO and Senior Management Team peers and building support for change and investment. This clearly makes the CIO role challenging, but also personally satisfying and rewarding.

The company with the highest ratio of transformation projects compared to ‘lights on’ spend observed that the network is a foundation layer for any IT delivery. If that layer is unreliable or restrictive, all services depending on it are impacted. So he made the decision to tackle the historically problematic network first, moving to a managed service that dramatically improved the quality of overall IT service delivery.

While Cloud has become a ubiquitous topic and is impacting the role of the CIO, it is just a method of delivery, not an end in itself. For the CIO’s attending there was some frustration with the disjoint between marketing messages and effective and practical solutions to business problems, represented at its worst by sales cold callers asking the question ‘Are you in the cloud yet?’, with little or no consideration of what such a question can really mean. Each business solution needs to be considered on its own merits, not in any dogmatic way, and in the short to medium term a hybrid of in-house and public cloud looks the most advantageous and effective approach.

At a macro-level, while there has been a deficit in the availability of high quality Data Centre services in the province, this market deficit has had little or no impact on IT services in the private or public sector. All the customers have worked around the issue by retaining in-house ‘Data Centre’ rooms for their virtualised server farms, as well as leveraging cloud.

There was also consensus that foreign Investment and state support is impacting on availability and cost of IT and software skills, pulling candidates away from indigenous business. Retaining expert staff interest and skill-level is difficult in expert areas – challenges and projects are key to keeping the best in best condition. All agreed that this made managed services a no-brainer in many critical areas, including networking.

The role of the CIO is no doubt becoming more challenging. A lot of the sentiment is endorsed in Gartner’s 2016 CIO Agenda survey about what they enjoy most and least about their role. CIOs are excited by the opportunity and the imperative to lead and drive change, finding how to manage this within their current constraints is what keeps them awake. Complexity is still a challenge, finding a way to reduce it is the key.

If you’d like to discuss any of these areas in more detail, please contact us at enquiries@eirni.co.uk or contact our sales director Matt McCloskey to discuss how we can help your business reduce complexity and meet the challenges that lie ahead. Call us at 028 9000 2100.