The days when a CIO focused strictly on keeping technology systems working and up to date are over. As technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, CIOs can often spend less time making sure systems work and more time focusing on IT strategies that benefit the entire company. Today, CIOs are also increasingly expected to innovate and contribute to a businesses' revenue stream.
A report released last month by Harvey Nash and KPMG found that more than half of CEOs say they are asking their CIOs to focus more on projects that create revenue and less on saving money. Of the 3,352 CIOs and tech leaders surveyed, 63% said making money was the priority, while only 37% said saving money was most important.
CIOs also reported that while things like customer engagement and improving business processes remain important, revenue growth often takes priority over delivering stable IT performance.
It's all about the data
Many enterprises were founded on the premise of using Big Data to help other companies improve their revenue. For example, InsideSales.com analyzes more than 100 billion data points and a machine learning algorithm to produce personalized, real-time data that can help customers increase sales revenue.
Another company, First Insight, uses Big Data to allow retailers to include customer response in the design and merchandising of new products.
In a similar manner, CIOs can craft new businesses within their existing organization that contribute to their company's earnings.
In fact, the proliferation of data is the primary driver behind the revenue-generating CIO. Today's CIOs can use data to create better products, new products and services, more targeted marketing programs and a better customer experience, according to Ashley Stirrup, CMO of Talend.
"For example, Lenovo has built an internal Big Data services team that is helping several business units inside of Lenovo use data more effectively," said Stirrup. "Lenovo is now considering creating a new external services offering around this to both sell services and increase usage of Lenovo servers."
"As data has become more malleable, more prevalent and more accessible, there is now an opportunity to use it in products that can help drive growth for a company and it's a great idea to move in this direction," said Christian Carollo, co-founder and CTO of Dropoff. "It's about creating efficiencies and directionality for those people in the company tasked with moving the ops and sales forward."
Harnessing the data
The idea of the revenue-generating CIO is based, at least in part, on the idea that crunching the numbers in a spreadsheet or model is no longer a job left solely for a sales or data analyst. CIOs can now take the insight an analyst provides and use it to shape parts of the business.
"This is the domain of technologists," said Carollo. "By moving in this direction, technologists can augment internal data, both operational and statistical, with external data from an endless array of sources to show how current business patterns and behaviors could be leveraged to create operational efficiencies or new revenue opportunities."
In other words, instead of simply using existing data to report, chart or analyze, CIOs can now take operational, sales and/or marketing data and augment it, score it and compare it with external data in the same manner.
"Once businesses begin to marry different data sets together and present it to users who can act on it, this will create an abundance of new opportunities that companies can leverage for growth," said Carollo.
The challenges of growing revenue
Just because technology enables new actions, however, doesn't mean success is automatic. Andrea Bridges-Smith, a product marketing manager at PostUp, said she often talks with tech leaders who want to use her company's platform for email marketing.
"That's great," Bridges-Smith said, "but these are not email marketers."
There is an art and science to creating a successful email campaign, and just because a CIO has access to the technology to make it work doesn't mean revenue is imminent.
"Because of this, they'll often turn over their whole email program for us to turn it into a program that generates revenue," said Bridges-Smith. "We would advise revenue-generating CIOs to consider not just the technology but the services that go with it as there's a good chance they'll end up needing both."
CIOs looking to participate in revenue-generating opportunities should also keep in mind that no CIO is an island unto him or herself.
"I do not recommend that the CIO try to become a revenue generator on their own," said Stirrup. "I recommend they remain focused on supporting the business and innovating within the mandates provided by the business."
In other words, said Stirrup, the rest of the organization already has important business skills that should be leveraged, including pricing and packaging, selecting target markets, and sales know-how, to name a few.
"Successfully launching new products and services needs skills in all of these areas," Stirrup said. "IT can play an important role, but you really want the business to own the overall go-to-market. Coming up with a great product or service is literally half the battle. The other half is nailing the full go-to-market that every new product requires."