How The CIO Got A Seat At The Table

CompTIA’s Randy Gross explains why IT is becoming more integral to business success.

For a long time, the IT department’s primary role was straightforward: Look after IT. Fix a down server, help an employee with email issues or hold a quick luncheon on database management. Things have moved swiftly in the last decade, though, and technology has become significantly more important to success. While many businesses at least understand the importance of cross-platform integration — ensuring that mobile apps mirror the company website, for example — most are still blind to the important role IT plays in business success. As this has occurred, the CIO’s role has evolved to one that has the ear of the company boardroom.

Technology has moved seamlessly into the workplace, so much so that employees use their computers for almost everything. This new employee behaviour — where people upload and download information on a far greater scale, engage in social media and frequently visit third-party sites — puts companies at a far greater risk from cybercriminals, spam, phishing and viruses. Here’s where the IT department is important – it has to educate employees on risk, ensure the company’s network is protected, and make sure the correct malware is installed on computers.

A good IT tech will keep management in the know when it comes to cyber-risks, and in return should get the training he needs to succeed. IT techs need to be one step ahead of the hackers and criminals who are attempting to infiltrate businesses and governments, and should be trained on an ongoing basis in order to protect the business.

Training like this is good for business managers too. The ones who learn the language of IT and stay current on threats can attempt to future-proof the business. Building the right systems to achieve this can be expensive and difficult — another reason to invest in your IT techs. The best IT technician will know the life expectancy of the company’s networks and databases, and how to build new, flexible systems that can adapt to the company’s needs. Enterprise software is evolving too, and can now deal with unstructured big data, which aids analytics. Good data processing means good analytics, and good analytics leads to better business outcomes. Suddenly it’s not about IT anymore: This is business strategy.

The collection of data is also increasingly about collecting and sharing internal data in a more structured way. Employees speak to clients, customers and each other about their successes, frustrations, strengths and weaknesses. Collecting this information and feeding it into systems that can handle random data helps bosses make sense of conversations, uncover problems and share in successes. These are relatively new developments and another reason why every organisation should invest in training their IT people — and each other. It is just as important for the boardroom to understand how and why IT is doing things so that its actions reflect the business strategy.

One of the most significant developments over the past five years has been the relocation of data from onsite servers to the cloud. This development both brought down the cost of data processing and storage and freed up time for the technician to focus on the things that are going to really make businesses thrive: building engaging apps and websites and working on analytics to offer customers more tailored, meaningful services and experiences.

Hire Wisely

As developments such as big data, analytics, cloud storage and multiplatform integration evolve, IT technicians are specialising. A small firm might find it unfeasible to hire specialists in various areas, but many larger firms will now hire a cloud integration expert plus a CRM expert with marketing experience who can create a bridge between marketing and IT. Such roles are now big and important enough to warrant a specialist. The IT professionals in those roles need specialist training and certifications to stay up to date on the latest technology and applications.

All businesses now rely on technology to succeed; from blogs to Facebook pages, mobile apps, cloud storage in multiple locations and engagement with online forums. Reputations, security and sales success depends upon bringing IT from the backroom into the boardroom. That’s why IT knowledge and training should be at the heart of every businesses strategy.

Randy Gross is the chief information officer (CIO) for CompTIA, a U.S.-based, non-profit IT industry trade association.