It’s never been easy to be an IT leader, but today the role is experiencing a paradigm shift that requires tech executives to innovate and transform their business, a willingness to adopt practices such as bimodal IT, skill at engaging with the business side and an openness to talk to (and listen to) customers.

Little Book of IT Research

According to the research, forward-looking IT executives tend to see IT as “critical to business strategy” and to “proactively work with other lines of business.”

However, it’s even more complicated than it sounds. While IT leaders must focus on meeting the demands of a job that’s becoming more diverse, more challenging and more complex, keeping traditional IT functions operating at peak efficiency is as important as ever. Moving apps to the cloud, ensuring legacy software can talk to off-premises apps, and keeping networks and systems secure remain table stakes for CIOs and other IT executives. At the same time, boards of directors, CEOs and business colleagues are turning to the CIO to lead digital transformations, win customers and drive revenue.

If you’re not certain where you fit in the ambitious definition of modern IT leaders, “The Little Book of IT 2017,” a survey of 1,350 global IT decision-makers conducted by Sungard Availability Services and market researcher Vanson Bourne, reveals a common theme among forward-looking IT executives: They see IT as “critical to business strategy.”

IT leaders must know the customer

“The Little Book of IT” points out that being an IT leader isn’t only about technological innovation. It also means providing a good customer experience (whether to internal or external customers). This is highlighted as one of the four “Keys to Success” of forward-looking IT executives: Engage with other lines of business.

Those IT executives who said IT was “critical to business strategy” appear to approach their jobs much more strategically and tend to “proactively work with other lines of business.” However, the level of outreach to other groups varies widely by country. For example, only U.S. respondents said they were more proactive (55 percent) than reactive (45 percent) in their interactions with internal customers.

Other countries are much more reactive. The report notes that it’s difficult to know the exact reason (though it suggests that better process documents and/or having more mature processes in place could be contributing factors). Regardless of the specific reasons, the majority of U.S. respondents are more proactive than companies in countries such as Canada (63 percent are reactive), France (68 percent are reactive) and Ireland (82 percent are reactive).

Given the new demands and expectations placed on modern IT leaders, anything that affects their ability to provide customer value should be a concern – regardless of country. The report reveals what researchers describe as a “worrying trend when IT leaders answered this question: ‘Which of the following activities is your IT department doing to address how it creates value for customers?’”

“Without exception,” the report says, “across size of organization, industry sector or geography, there is a discrepancy between the number of respondents who said they are ‘collecting customer feedback’ versus the number who seem to be actually ‘listening to customer feedback and fulfilling the desires of our customers.’”

“With such a lack of focus on what the customer wants, there may be more challenges for IT beyond infrastructure, security and mobility,” “The Little Book of IT” warns.

Stepping up to the table

Little Book of IT Table Graphic

CIOs, CTOs, CDOs and CSOs see their influence growing more than other C-suite leaders.

Despite the prevalence of shadow IT and departments outside of IT relying on emerging technology to drive revenue, C-level tech executives don’t see their role shrinking. In fact, they want to play an even stronger role. As the table at right indicates, CIOs, CTOs, CDOs and CSOs see their influence growing more than other C-suite leaders (while the CIO role shows only a modest 5 percent increase, that role will maintain and grow its leading position).

Welcome to the future

“The Little Book of IT” reports that this is a year of opportunity and innovation that will pave the road to “modification, modernization and growth.” Modern IT leaders will ensure both stability and opportunity to anticipate and meet business and customer demands. Their goals will range from defending against physical and virtual threats to defending against competitive pressure.


Dan Muse is a technology journalist and content consultant. He’s the former editor in chief of CIO.com. He has covered technology for three decades and held senior editorial positions with Ziff Davis, Jupitermedia, Disney Publishing, McGraw-Hill and Advance Digital.