Five Reasons Every SaaS Startup Needs a CIO

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In this guide, originally published on Forbes, Zuora’s CIO Alvina Antar provides five benefits CIOs will bring to every startup.

Although digital enterprise companies know technology is at the core of every business process and is the primary driver of competitive advantage, CIOs are often not hired in the early stages of the company.

In fact, very few pause to think of a CIO until there’s a dire need.

While there’s no doubt that CTOs and CFOs are critical, CIOs have an equally important role to play in digital enterprise tech.

Here are 5 reasons your startup needs a CIO today:

#1: CIOs Enable Business Growth Strategies

CIOs are typically brought in when a company is considering going public or planning an exit. By this time, the company has thrown heads at business problems and have a slew of internal business systems that are not properly integrated and definitely not built for scale.

The unfortunate truth is that the CIO is scrambling to clean up the mess of unguided investments. These often include multi-year agreements of the wrong technology, short-sighted choices, and siloed business decisions.

The first-time company CIO will be too busy cleaning house and documenting manual business processes for compliance and governance purposes as opposed to focusing on enabling business growth strategies.

Takeaway: It’s pertinent that companies make the right technology investments early on to prevent chaos and focus primarily on growth.

#2: CIOs Can Differentiate a Business

As technology evolves, our lives seem to get simpler and more complicated at the same time. To stay competitive, companies need a CIO who challenges the status quo and drives agility with disruptive technologies to differentiate the business.

Technology implementation isn’t static. It’s constantly evolving and requires continual investment.

Companies often make the mistake of relying solely on external consultants to make IT decisions and suffer from a lack of transparency and accountability. Relying on sporadic attention by external consultants for critical business functions will not suffice.

What companies need is in-house expertise to ensure that your processes and technology enable them to achieve their goals. A CIO will focus on speed and agility, guarantee investments are maximized to their full potential, and keep pace with technology advancements.

Takeaway: Without a CIO, companies lack an internal systems and technology vision enabling their business’ growth initiatives.

#3: CIOs Have a Holistic View of the Business

A CIO is the only person positioned to create an end-to-end functional and technical blueprint for the entire company. Their oversight of the overall business helps ensure that all investments are aligned with the business priorities and strategy.

CIOs spend company money as their own and are accountable for every dime! They stop the buying madness and over-spending on technologies and duplication of investments with a laser focus on operational efficiency.

CIOs are uniquely positioned to have visibility into how individual business decisions impact the rest of the organization. IT departments are also strongly focused on business operational alignment spanning the entire customer journey.

This allows them to have a holistic picture of the company, allowing business units to focus on their core functions. It also helps streamline business processes, remove data silos, and empower companies with business intelligence to make data-driven decisions.

Takeaway: It’s critical that businesses works as a single unit to deliver a seamless and consistent customer experience.

#4: CIOs Prioritize Preventative Security

Securing customer data is required to earn their trust and, ultimately, their business. Equally important is protecting the company’s IP and business data, information assets, and technologies against threats. The goal is to prioritize both the business and security of information, infrastructure, and sensitive data — instead of waiting for a data breach or security incident.

Preventive security is critical and required for every company’s sanity and reputation. CIOs can help build standard governance and compliance principles early on into IT operations to avoid post-incident cleanup efforts.

Takeaway: Security awareness and risk management should not be an afterthought but rather incorporated in every business decision the company makes.

#5: CIOs Implement Products Internally and Act as Product Champions

If there’s a business case for the company to use its own product, they absolutely need to do it – and do it right! By investing in a CIO early on, businesses will have established an internal champion of their product. CIOs will implement the product and go on to become the company’s best reference account.

Prospects and customers will want to know if companies use their product and how. Demonstrating a commitment to the product and its excellence by implementing it within the company goes a long way in creating trust and transparency which ultimately leads to increased sales and happy customers. It also serves as a testbed for product teams and provides invaluable feedback to the product roadmap.

Takeaway: CIOs will bet on their own product, become the internal champion and best reference account, and ultimately have a direct impact on revenue.

CIOs Are Critical For Startup Success

If technology and innovation are vital to a company, CEOs need to hire a CIO. They can’t wait until they’re close to an IPO event to finally invest in this critical role! Hiring a CIO early on ensures companies aren’t stuck with poor technology and are positioned for business growth and scale.

The new digital enterprise requires technology leadership to shape and transform their businesses. Startups need CIOs who are capable of driving results within small teams in an ever-changing environment.

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