2.5.2 The role of a Chief Information Officers (CIO) or equivalent Senior ICT manager

The role of a CIO provides a critical interface between the business and ICT. The appointment of a CIO, or recognition of an equivalent senior manager acting in this role, reinforces an institution's and SMT's commitment to technology.

A CIO combines a keen understanding of institutional business needs and a perspective of users' needs, with the experience and knowledge in the mobilising ICT to meet those needs.

Brian Hawkins from Educause examines the role of the CIO in A Framework for the CIO Position (Educause Review)11 and emphasises the need for institutions to clearly understand the unique opportunities created by the role, the ICT needs, and the management commitment required to support the cross institutional role of a CIO.

The differentiating characteristic of a CIO is the ability and enthusiasm to work with and through the wider community of institutional management to realise institutional objectives. They are able to focus and mobilise technology to meet institutional strategy whether that be transformational, strategic or operational.

Without exception those institutions we interviewed with a CIO, or equivalent role, believed that the CIOs had added to the formulation of institutional strategy and enhanced communications and awareness between the business units and ICT services.

Our research found that the formulation of ICT strategy is led by the CIO, or other equivalent senior ICT management, who stated that their objectives include:

  • understanding the business requirements, developing the ICT strategy and budgetary information to support the requirements
  • introducing an informed vision of how ICT strategy could support transformational change by horizon scanning and strategic planning
  • management and planning of ICT including policy and practice development, planning, budgeting, resourcing, training etc

Effective management reporting line

The appointment of a CIO to the Senior Management Team is seen by many throughout industry as critical to their success. Based on the research from the Strategic ICT project and other research into this area, such as Duke & Jordan, a CIO appointment in UK HEIs is rare. However, we were informed that a direct reporting line into a member of the Senior Management Team who acts with the commitment and willingness to engage with the strategic ICT issues is seen as essential.

Respondents stated that an institution's decision in this area should in no way change the collective responsibility of the SMT to work collaboratively with the CIO and their appropriate institutional domains to maximise the institution's effective use of technology and ensure the success of the institution's ICT strategy.

Established support to SMT and other strategy development functions

The Dearing report12 recommended the development of managers that combine experience and an understanding of ICT with senior management experience. The importance of ICT to institutions and the nature of strategy formulation, as previously documented, magnify the requirement for this combined expertise within the SMT. Again the unequivocal findings from the research confirmed that the Senior Management Teams rarely include the desirable levels of expertise and understanding to address subjects that frequently include underlying ICT issues.

The horizons that CIOs work against, spanning both business and ICT, position them perfectly to support the SMT by providing additional expertise and insights. However, our research found senior ICT management are concerned they are not included in relevant meetings, and consultation was neither sufficient, or frequently enough to support senior management and the development of strategy.

An institution may need to consider whether the existing governance culture allows a CIO, or similar professional, to sufficiently communicate and influence the existing institutional decision making.