The CIO role in designing and delivering the Workplace of the Future

CIO UK and sister title Computerworld UK launched its Workplace of the Future study at today’s 2018 CIO Summit, the first in a series of research studies we hope will be of use to CIOs and the IT community in the UK. With 1,000 copies of the research available in an exclusive print run and a digital version of the study incoming, you will be able to download the full report – which will be available from Monday 24 September – by registering with CIO UK.

If you are not inclined to leaf through the 56-page study, the vastly-oversimplified tl;dr version of the Workplace of the Future research will almost certainly be disappointingly trite for those more interested in hyperbole and futurism – and runs thus.

CIO UK and Computerworld UK‘s research largely supported the assertions of our CIO steering committee that the future workplace will be defined by culture, collaboration and flexibility as much as by the impact of newer emerging technologies on the types of work that people are doing.

CIOs and IT leaders told us that they expected technology to continue to affect their organisations, and many are already at the early stages of Workplace of the Future initiatives.

Fundamentally underpinned by mobility and flexibility, innovations in artificial intelligence, machine learning and the Internet of Things were named by CIOs as likely to have the biggest impact on their organisations. Respondents largely expected advances in automation to lead to the loss of jobs, but it was also cited that moving people to more value-add roles was an important driver to implement Workplace of the Future initiatives.

The CIO as facilitator

Where does the CIO and the technology function fit in with all this? Respondents to this study noted that Workplace of the Future initiatives were crucial to the future success of their organisations, but warned that a combination of culture, complex legacy IT, cost and cybersecurity considerations are holding such programmes back. CIOs and IT professionals also told us that ownership of Workplace of the Future initiatives is as likely to be top-down as bottom-up – an equal number felt that future workplace programmes should be led by the board as they should be owned by the entire organisation.

Our CIO steering group noted something of a leadership vacuum, as different parts of the business look to each other to take command of this issue, which presents an opportunity for CIOs to play a pivotal role in designing and delivering Workplace of the Future programmes.

Dominic Howson, Supply Chain and IS Director of Hovis, and Sean Harley, CIO at Ascential, both described the CIO as the facilitator with a key part to play in coming up with the ideas, the broader cultural change management and the training programmes – as well as providing robust insight into the nature of modern working and how to attract key skills.

Noting that his own approach was not to try to develop a future workplace per se but to pursue a gradual technology evolution, Howson suggested that technology leaders should take a subtle approach to introduce processes and technologies.

“The CIO is the salesperson, the promoter,” he said. “But every business has to realise the benefits of projects. My concern over any workplace initiative that’s labelled as transformative is it will require funds, and business benefits on this type of programme can be hard to define. This again supports my evolution of technology in the workplace; if you do it in bite-size chunks you can modernise your workplace over time and not make a costly song and dance about it.”

Dave Roberts, CIO and board director at Radius Payment Solutions, said that the opportunity has always been there for CIOs to be proactive in introducing new technology solutions to their organisations. “The CIO should be able to identify the tasks and processes within an organisation that would benefit from applied technology – be that artificial intelligence, machine learning, Big Data, IoT, virtual reality – or simply make it possible to work from any location and still be part of the connected workplace,” he said.

Leader and evangelist

Shell Energy CIO Clare Patterson and Kelly Olsen, a CIO 100 member and non-executive director of LSE-listed energy management company SMS, described CIOs as needing to be evangelists. Indeed for Olsen, CIOs need to be future-focused, business-savvy, creative champions able to drive future workplace initiatives through and deliver at pace.

Dentsu Aegis Network EMEA CIO, Gideon Kay, said that “the CIO should help lead the discussion in conjunction with other business leaders and HR”, and agreed that CIOs needed to be able to explore and explain “the art of the possible”. Along with Roberts, Olsen, Patterson and Howson, he said that opening up a dialogue with colleagues around the business is the first step – in other words, making a future workplace programme work is little different from any other aspect of the CIO role.

“The CIO can lead, facilitate, contribute and educate throughout this depending on the nature of the debate,” Kay said. “I believe that opening the debate with key peers is the best way to get started.”


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