CIOs are expected to successfully split their time between duties that can greatly vary day to day. Federal Reserve System CIO Ghada Ijam, for instance, says on a good day, 60% of her time is spent on strategic planning and the rest keeping the business running.

As every CIO knows, though, days can be unpredictable, and it’s all hands on deck when unexpected events and crises occur. “There are days where we have incidents and all of my time goes into just keeping the business running,” says Ijam. “That’s the foundation of the job that nobody talks about.”

More or less, there are always operational versus strategic priorities to manage that demand different thinking. “With the strategic, you’ve got to think above the everyday and see what’s coming down the line, and keeping the lights on can be about [dealing with] those crises,” she says. Shifting into and out of those modes in itself is a juggling act, she adds.

While there can be a lot of attention on the new shiny strategic projects, the everyday operational matters can go unrecognized until there’s a crisis. Ijam aims to acknowledge and validate both to the team and the wider organization their dual importance, and the inherent balancing act.

CIOs typically split their time between 40% technology function, 25% collaboration with colleagues, 17% managing business capabilities beyond technology (ESG, customer experience, shared services, for instance), and 18% working with external customers or channel partners of the time, according to Dr. Peter Weill, senior research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and chairman emeritus of the Center for Information Systems Research (CISR). There’s a lot of plate spinning, and the growing scope of the CIO role means they need to display more agility than ever before.

“This juggling act will only be successfully pulled off by those who can show remarkable levels of flexibility,” says Weill. Adding to the complexity, challenges come from all directions — talent squeeze, macroeconomic pressures, competing business priorities, legacy mindsets, technical debt and a lack of funding. Yet opportunity lies within the adversity, says Weill.

His research also indicates CIOs of companies enjoying the greatest levels of profit and growth spend twice as much time managing complementary enterprise capabilities than organizations that lag behind. “This connection of capabilities helps top performers maximize the value presented by technology,” he explains. 

Weill points to the example of Toyota North America CDO Zack Hicks who was simultaneously CEO and founder of mobility service company Toyota Connected and was connecting complementary capabilities. He believes truly great CIOs are now expected to go above and beyond by helping identify and even produce new digital lines of business made possible by greater tech capability. “This requires greater understanding of customers by the CIO, made possible only through closer collaboration, which will help them co-create solutions that the market will really love,” he says.

Conducting the digital enterprise

Ijam believes CIOs need to navigate through a mindset shift as job requirements have moved from technical to organizational and business management. “There’s a lot more focus on leadership attributes that any C-suite member would be expected to have, but with a technology heavy background and experiences in defining, developing and implementing technology to solve business problems,” she says. “As the CIO, we need to be more like a business executive, like a CEO presenting the full view, rather than just a technologist.”

The skill profile and expectations of the CIO have, therefore, shifted to balance both business management with technology, so, where necessary, CIOs need to bolster those skills accordingly to deliver the right solutions for the business. “What makes a strong CIO is being able to recognize where the blind spots in their skill sets are and bring supplemental skills in with other leaders in the organization,” she adds.

So the CIO role has evolved into this business manager position to understand how technology delivers value to the business. “And because technology is becoming the way we do business, it becomes imperative for the CIO to have that business acumen in addition to the technology,” she says, adding having that acumen is necessary to articulate justifying investment in it to enable organizational growth.

In addition, as CEOs have increased their investment into digital advances in security, AI, and data analytics, their demand for results has grown, according to Gartner VP analyst Daniel Sanchez-Reina. He suggests CIOs need to be quicker and more nimble to deliver, which means handing off tactical, low-value activities to other business areas to democratize digital delivery across the organization. The CIO designs the business technologies they want to have in each of the business areas and trains them to ensure proper governance and avoid problems. These business technologies are saviors for CIOs because CEOs are impatient, says Sanchez-Reina.

Operating at this level, the CIO should become the conductor of technology for the entire enterprise, he suggests, therein maximizing the value of technology.

Replacing the term ‘IT’ with ‘enterprise’ also reflects that the main role of the CIO is to orchestrate and create the technology governance for the entire enterprise. “Otherwise they won’t succeed nor meet the expectations of CEOs to provide the digital dividends they expect,” he says. And to drive successful results, common business outcomes such as customer experience or growth targets, need to be adopted and unified. So each member of the C-suite has to contribute, and the only way to be efficient is to find synergies. “If CIOs don’t do this, they’ll have big problems because each of those initiatives consume IT resources in an isolated, disconnected manner,” Sanchez-Reina says. “And there has to be clear outcome-driven metrics to check if each of those business areas contribute efficiently to that overarching business outcome.”

The CIO as transformation business partner

Technology-led business transformation that organizations undertake also pushes the CIO role further into strategic thinking and vision, according to Ijam.

The disruption means CIOs will increasingly need to combine technology expertise with the vision to imagine a new or transformed business practice in the organization. “It comes down to can we sit down and have conversations about reimagining how we’re going to do business for the organization, and what value can we deliver beyond what’s obvious today because of the investment in technology,” she says.

CIO, IT Leadership, IT Strategy, Roles

Coding has been an educational trend in Africa for many years, and schools and movements have been created in response to a pressing need and necessity in the digital age. It’s still the case today, except entrepreneurs and companies are now beginning to adopt tools to create applications and develop services that don’t require coding. Those who have taken the plunge are trying to maximize the vast potential of these tools by further educating as many people as possible about them in a continent where the familiarization of digital techniques is not advanced.

Some African entrepreneurs have embarked on a mission to universalize these tools since many ICT professionals report that digital illiteracy in Africa is still a concerning reality.

In its 2021 study on the state of low-code/no-code development around the world and how different regions are approaching it, US cloud computing company Rackspace Technology said that in the EMEA region, the use level is below the global average.

The report shows that the biggest barrier to adoption in this region may be skepticism about the benefits, and of all regions, EMEA is the least likely to say that low-code/no-code is a key trend. It’s also the only region where unclear benefits constitute one of the top three reasons for not adopting low-code/no-code.

“It’s possible that organizations in EMEA don’t have as many models for successful low-code/no-code implementation because EMEA organizations that have implemented it may not be seeing its biggest benefit,” the report says. “Forty-four percent say the ability to accelerate the delivery of new software and applications is a benefit — the lowest percentage of any region.”  

Some West African countries, such as Benin, understand that low-code/no-code tools are innovative and disruptive to the CIO community, but not universally trusted. “The general idea is that low-code/no-code is not yet mature enough to be used on a large scale because of its application to specific cases where security needs and constraints are low,” says Maximilien Kpodjedo, president of the CIO Association of Benin and digital adviser to Beninese president Patrice Talon. “These technologies are at the exploratory or low-use stage.”

However, he notices interest in these technologies is growing among CIOs.

“We have commissions working and thinking about innovative concepts, including a commission of CIOs,” says Kpodjedo. “Even if there were projects, they’re marginal at this stage. This could change in the near future, though, thanks to the interest generated.”

But some other entrepreneurs have taken advantage of it and want others to benefit from what they’ve seen in these tools. Actors and leaders of incubators and educational movements are doing what they can for the sake of those in both technological and non-technological sectors.

Many become coaches or consultants of low-code/no-code for companies while others within incubators or movements lead awareness and training on these technologies.

It’s almost child’s play for some entrepreneurs who use it to automate trivial tasks or create internal software for their companies. They don’t need to be experts in coding or even have deep knowledge of ICT. They sometimes come across a technology by chance and end up adopting it because they see its importance and benefits.

This is a reality described by Kenyan Maureen Esther Achieng, CEO of Nocode Apps, Inc., who got into non-coding technologies by following the advice of Mike Williams, otherwise known as Yoroomie, a friend who built and launched online marketplace community for music studio rentals Studiotime in one night using no code.

“Since then, through constant self-study and countless mentorships from some of the best coaches in the global no code space, I’ve helped hundreds of people get started in technology,” she said.

Achieng has now taken up technology as her “divine mission.” Her company specializes in training non-technical entrepreneurs and start-ups, and she teaches people how to leverage no code technology to launch their applications and websites in hours without writing code or hiring developers.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa, software engineer Bigurwa Buhendwa Dom also discovered no code from a relative.

“I had no idea that such technology could exist or at least be so advanced,” he says. “As a software engineer, setting up a working application or even a demo is a real challenge. It takes months or years in some cases. I was fascinated by the speed with which you can build a prototype or a trial version with such a technology, which immediately reduces costs and allows you to test the idea in the market.”

He now offers independent consultations in his country where he has noticed that most people don’t know what it’s about.

A simple environment for companies

Public and private companies also see an opportunity for these services. In Cameroon, for instance, the land credit authority is banking on an agile platform in low code adapted to the needs of application development, as well as the supply of licenses necessary to implement such a platform, how it’s operated, and the production of reports.

In Senegal and Gabon, the French multinational Bolloré Transports and Logistics uses Microsoft’s Power Platform solution to provide employees who use it with a simple environment to create application software without going through traditional computer programming, according to Microsoft, which supported teams with training workshops beforehand, adding that this low-code/no-code approach has enabled Bolloré employees to develop their creativity by appropriating the application creation tools, and move toward faster, more intelligent and optimized processes.

For Jean-Daniel Elbim, director of digital transformation at Bolloré, these tools allow the operational staff to be given more control, but also to bring more agility to the local teams.

“Obviously, the data must be managed,” he says. “We need to define a framework, and there needs to be a group of experts at central level, available to respond to local issues.”

Evangelization and altruistic services

In Chad, ICT expert Salim Alim Assani is co-founder and manager of WenakLabs, a media lab and tech hub incubator described as a niche of Chadian geek talent. According to him, low code is part of daily life of the group’s entrepreneurs.

“We use this tool to set up websites and minimum viable products for our entrepreneurs,” he says. “It’s a real success on projects that don’t require a lot of customization in terms of functionality, from showcase sites to simple mobile applications, for example. We offer a lot of training in this area too. In the framework of certain projects, we’ve initiated 50 young women to the use of low code, particularly the design of websites with WordPress. In the same context, we’re training 25 digital referents, whose daily professional life will be centered on low code. We also regularly organize awareness-raising events on the issue.”

Sesinam Dagadu also makes extensive use of no code at SnooCode, a digital localization solution in Nigeria. Based in London, he’s the founder and CTO of this alphanumeric system that allows addresses to be stored, shared and navigated, even without internet or cellular access.

“I think the biggest place we haven’t used code is on our website,” he says. “We’re creating systems to allow people who build on top of SnooCode to do so using no-code technologies.”

Going ahead without expensive developers

Dagadu appreciates he could do without a developer to use these tools even though he initially used one, which incurred a lot of cost.

“At first we had to employ a web developer who did a lot of work, but it looks horrible using technology like Square Space,” he says. “In Africa, development costs are very high and can only be tackled by companies with a lot of funding. But with the growth of low-code/no-code, more people with bright ideas can bring them to life without the need for expensive developers.”

He noted that because of the popularity problem in Africa of these tools, people believe that every time they have an idea to implement an application or technology, they have to resort to an application developer. But by coding less or not at all, there’s an easier entry into hard code according to WenakLabs’ Assani. “It’s a way to be visible quickly, to offer your services to the world without resorting to the skills of a developer. Above all, you learn through experimentation.”

He sees this as an opportunity to widen the pathway to digital access and entry across Africa. Indeed, entrepreneurs believe these tools will democratize technology and resolve many issues. “This democratization could allow Nocode Apps to be used to solve the most difficult problems not only in Kenya but in Africa in general,” says Achieng. “African problems need technology because the population is young, tech-savvy and uses the internet a lot, so it’s in the interest of Africans to get on board and have more proactive and knowledgeable leadership, especially in IT, to make wise decisions that reflect the speed at which technology and business are changing.”

Africa, Emerging Technology, Innovation, No Code and Low Code

Headquartered in Boston with more than 2,700 employees worldwide, Novanta is an $800 million global supplier of laser photonics, precision motion control, and vision technologies. As CIO, Sarah Betadam, who joined in 2019 as VP of business applications, and then became global CIO in January 2021, is charged with the strategic direction, leadership, and implementation of the company’s digital transformation, juggling several initiatives simultaneously. At the moment, four different digital transformation initiatives are underway in cyber, business intelligence, CRM and ERP systems.

With all this in mind, she and the rest of her team are currently thinking about a three-year plan based on business capabilities, collaboration and data-driven decisions that align with the Novanta company vision to enable growth.

“I have a great team, and we also have a partnership with the business users,” she says. “We are a very fast-paced company, and my team is able to keep pace to make sure we implement things.”

Backing from the tech-based company’s leadership adds further muscle to ensure that transformation initiatives are carried out successfully.

“We also have the leadership across the board really wanting us to make changes,” she says. “That support really helps. Within transformational portfolios, though, we still have to prioritize substantive programs, so they don’t all happen at the same speed. We’re adaptable based on business changes, and from there we can implement.”

CIO Leadership Live host Maryfran Johnson recently interviewed Betadam on the CIO-CEO relationship, nurturing business and IT partnerships that help strengthen the organization, servant leadership, agile methodologies, and more. Here are some edited excerpts of that conversation. Watch the full video below for more insights.

On business partnerships: We think of ourselves as digitally focused and an integral business partner with all of the different functions and business units as we move to cloud solutions to best scale Novanta for the future. Cloud strategy is definitely something we’ve been building our ecosystem around. It isn’t easy, but with a lot of collaboration over the last two years with partnerships and going through business capabilities, we’re focusing on pain points and building solutions around them. That’s a key part of our ongoing success, and for future planning. And as we go through different business cases, we’ve partnered with our finance team in order to calculate ROI for the company and how much technology will drive that.  

On agile: It’s about owning the different mindsets. So it’s a growth mindset to think outside the box. Agile isn’t about speed, it’s about how you think about the problem and making sure you have a minimal viable product in order to see if it solves the issue. Then you build on it and pivot. Also, in terms of psychological safety, it’s okay to fail. So it builds that environment about a growth mindset, adapting to different environments and making sure you’re solving a business problem.

On educating the business: You have to do your homework. What we end up doing is spending at least a month or two interviewing different groups and business stakeholders, and then pick the pilot group to move to agile and what that means. So for our BI, we started that about 2019 from mid-level and worked for them to become our advocates and champions. Then you bring the middle management to the higher management, so it was leading by example. I found it really instrumental in changing their minds to see how agile is supposed to work. Another way I did it in previous organizations is you bring in coaches from outside to interview your C-suite. Expert agile coaches interviewing, getting feedback and formulating a plan also helps.

On servant leadership: The pivotal part of a servant leader is building the foundation with the team, making sure there’s a trust foundation within leadership, and then see how that disseminates to the organization. What I tell team members is we need to trust and empower each other. So for me, it’s building empowerment for team members, and for them to be successful, whether they’re with me now or many years later. That gives me the greatest satisfaction. I believe the reason I didn’t experience the Great Resignation was because of building that trust within the team, having open communication and transparency, and making sure we work together in order to accomplish what we want to do. It’s a psychological safety and a way to make sure people understand that you have to walk the talk.

Agile Development, Digital Transformation, Remote Work