The European CIO: A social portrait

by Madalina Irimia and Raluca Dode 

There was a time when the Information Technology department was not as glamorous as marketing or advertising. For lots of people, IT meant smart geeks, technology savvy, code crafters that sat in the back office and manipulated data and computers. But overnight, data exploded, technology was everywhere and IT turned into the prince charming of the organization. Nowadays, IT guys and gals are no longer basic IT services providers with a technological mindset. Their roles have evolved, often extending beyond the borders of traditional job descriptions.

The importance of CIOs at the boardroom table is undeniable, and their influence on the organization’s business is increasing. Engaged and motivated, they are fully involved in the digital business transformation of their companies. “By 2018, CIOs expect IT to play a critical role in enabling their organizations’ strategic vision,” according to an IBM study. Digital, vision, innovation and strategy are keywords that frequently accompany the image of a Chief Information Officer.

It is also interesting to note that more and more CIOs are using social networks to share knowledge and information, collaborate with peers, talk about the challenges they face or uncover customer insights: “Two-thirds of CIOs are exploring better ways to collaborate, via cloud computing and social networking tools, in order to develop and deliver what customers want — or uncover what they don’t yet know they want.”

Vala Afshar, Chief Digital Evangelist at Salesforce, reinforced this while publishing his Top 100 Most Social CIOs on Twitter 2015. In his opinion, “championing adoption of new technologies requires CIOs to actively engage and communicate broadly. To stay informed, successful CIOs are leveraging social media as their personal learning networks.”

For this reason, we decided to explore social data, going inside the mind of CIOs and painting a social portrait of the European CIO. We hit the road with a few questions: what challenges did CIOs express on social networks? What are their preferred topics for conversation? To answer such questions and in order to find out what CIOs say and what others say about them, IBM’s social research team analyzed over 40,000 Twitter, blog and forum mentions of CIO related data from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, UK and Spain. The social research analysis highlighted eight major focus areas for European CIOs, which reveal their interests and pain points.

  1. The main focus is digital transformation

Across all the European countries analyzed, digital transformation appears to be the hottest topic of interest in the CIO related conversations, generating the highest level of social discussion. Reinforcing the findings of many traditional surveys, our social research showed that European CIOs are taking the lead in digitally transforming their organization by implementing more cloud, analytics, mobile and social technologies.

While selecting the right technology seems vital for the success of the digital transformation process, CIOs execute their vision in a very collaborative way. An interesting finding, reflected across all countries, but more heavily in Spain, is that digital transformation is seen as a team responsibility. Departments must connect internally, and CIOs must work closely and coordinate their efforts with their C-Suite peers. Business strategy and technology must align on the same goals.

The CIO’s quest to transform the business and become more customer-oriented is reflected in social media conversations. The discussions referenced the tense CIO-CMO relationship, given that CIOs may take some marketing tasks away from the CMO, as well as the potential overlap with the Chief Digital Officer role.

In France, CIOs view digital transformation as an important pillar for improving customer satisfaction.

Social conversations also show that CIOs acknowledge insufficient agility. They need to adjust their speed to better adapt to digital disruption and infrastructure changes. The France analysis highlighted the need of CIOs to improve constantly their digital skills, in order to lead company’s growth.CIO social_final

  1. Cloud as opportunity for business growth

CIOs have an increased interest in cloud technologies. CIOs from all countries mentioned cloud as an area of focus for their business. However, in terms of volume, CIOs from Germany, Switzerland, Austria and France seem to be more actively involved in these conversations, making that topic the second-most discussed theme in those regions.

Across Europe, CIOs see cloud as an engine for business growth and agility, a path to cost savings, and the fuel for big data and analytics, mobile or IoT solutions. France CIOs, in particular, see cloud as a “must have” technology with strategic impact that allows them to innovate.

CIOs are becoming more and more educated when it comes to cloud, but face some challenges focused mostly around adoption. While some countries such as France or Germany seem to be positioned as early adopters, others like the UK and Spain report slower adoption due to concerns around security, migration difficulties and issues with legacy systems.

  1. Taking advantage of big data analytics potential

As part of their role in enabling business transformation, European CIOs see big data and analytics solutions as an essential step in implementing this transformation for their organization. A high volume of conversations centered on CIOs’ intent to equip the organization with the right tools and technology for capitalizing on big data.

CIOs talked about the need to develop insights in real time, the concern of dealing with large data sets, and the importance of collaboration with the Chief Data Officer (CDO), especially in the early stages of solution adoption and implementation. It’s interesting to observe that, in Spain, this topic drove 14 percent of the CIO related conversation, ranking second only to digital transformation.

Similar to what we’ve heard from CDOs, the European CIO seems concerned about skills gaps and talent availability when it comes to dealing with the complexity of data.

  1. Evolution of the CIO role

European CIOs are taking an extended role in the business, acting as technology innovators and leading business transformation, and at the same time positioning themselves as strategic partners for the CEO.

Across all analyzed regions, role-related conversations were a stand-out theme – ranking particularly high in the United Kingdom (second highest conversation topic) and Spain (taking third spot).

In the conversations about the evolution of their role, much of the discussion focused on CIO involvement in digital transformation and technological innovation, working closer with CEOs and improving business performance. Tackling these kinds of business development areas is bringing CIOs closer to their CEOs, while the main challenge mentioned in social conversations was how to balance their involvement in all these strategic areas while still needing to run traditional operations.

  1. Preoccupation with IT security

With the exception of Spain, CIOs across the rest of Europe see security as a top priority – one that elevates the importance of their role. IT security scored lower as a social conversation topic in Spain (not present in the top eight themes) than in the UK (ranking fifth) or in France (ranking sixth). One thing is certain, though: the importance of security presents opportunities for CIOs to stand out if they manage to build a solid security culture within their organization.

However, IT security is also seen as a challenge. Employees are now more connected through a multitude of devices.  With the Internet of Things, systems are becoming more integrated. And BYOD and shadow IT bring an extra layer of security risks. From the analyzed social conversations, it is clear that adopting cloud, mobile, social and analytics and digitally transforming the business introduce a new set of security challenges for the CIO.

  1. Embracing mobility

Mobile enables enterprises to interact and engage with customers and employees in novel ways, and having the right team and the right approach is the winning combination for successful mobile development projects, as a recent IBM Center for Applied Insights study reflects.

In their quest to become more customer-focused, CIOs see mobile as instrumental in engaging with customers across all channels. In the UK (where mobile ranked seventh among discussion themes) and Spain (where it ranked sixth), CIOs are discussing mobile integration with cloud as an opportunity for superior user experiences. In Germany (where it ranked seventh), CIOs see mobile as critical to market success because it provides real-time data access and enables customer engagement and feedback.

In conversations around challenges, the concerns were related to securing the mobile enterprise, educating employees and creating strong mobile analytics. In France, CIOs consider mobile a “must have” channel to ensure customer satisfaction, but mobility presents security concerns for CIOs: integrating mobile into the customer journey without ensuring the right level of security can cause a high level of customer dissatisfaction.

  1. What about social media?

In Germany, social was a more frequently discussed theme than in the UK, France or Spain. Among German CIOs, it ranked fourth, right after digital transformation, cloud, and big data and analytics. However,  most of the discussion was related to security concerns and possible challenges around integration with other tools.  IT leaders in the other European regions consider social media as an opportunity, and among the benefits mentioned, real-time customer feedback and collaboration across the enterprise stand out.

  1. Thinking IoT?

The answer is yes, even though this topic garnered a lower volume of conversation. It’s worth highlighting that CIOs in France seem much more focused on IoT than their European peers, discussing the rapidly evolving solutions that might reinvent their business or bring faster innovation. Among all European CIOs, social conversations highlighted infrastructure as a main challenge for successful IoT solution implementation.

Strictly tied to the transformation of businesses, the evolution of the CIO is undeniable. Through their social conversation patterns, European CIOs are revealing their priorities and pain points. For the latest CIO insights, please visit Think Leaders: technology.

1 responses to The European CIO: A social portrait

  1. I found the cloud portion (#2) the most interesting. There have been numerous studies that show how EU companies lag behind in cloud adoption and the potential benefits. CEBR published a 2010 study that estimated €763 billion (over 5yrs)of cumulative economic benefits for cloud adoption across FIVE largest EU countries. Seems countries cannot seem to get past the nationalistic views, requiring data to stay in-country, and concerns of the EU data privacy directive and that enable cloud resources/vendors in the USA that cold double the amount of services they’ve get to choose from.


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