Bradley Kalgovas, an honours research student at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), spoke to 10 Australians CIOs in various industries, for a research study titled Transcending the barriers to CIO ambidexterity, which identifies what prevents CIOs from exploring and exploiting technology inside their organisations.
The study was overseen by Christine Van Toorn, director of the information systems co-op scholarship programs at the UNSW’s School of Information Systems, Technology and Management. Van Toorn is completing a PhD that examines the competencies CIOs need to meet various challenges now and in the future.
Kalgovas, who has previously undertaken consulting roles with Accenture, A.T. Kearney and Deloitte and NBN Co, sat down with CIO Australia to discuss the research.
CIO: You’ve completed research that identifies the barriers to CIO ambidexterity and provided some recommendations to overcome these barriers. You have defined ambidexterity as the ability to create a flexible and dynamic IT department which conducts exploratory and exploitative activities. Can you explain what that means?
Kalgovas: A CIO manages the IT function, their job is really to look at exploring new technologies, finding out what is new in the market, scanning the market and exploiting that – implementing the technologies they have found and refining that technology in their organisation to improve efficiency. That’s what we mean by ambidexterity.
I looked at what is stopping CIOs exploring and finding out what’s new in the market, what is stopping them from exploiting that technology effectively in their organisation and finally what’s stopping them balancing and doing both activities at the same time.
CIO: What type of CIOs did you speak to and how many?
Kalgovas: We spoke to 10 CIOs from a range of industries – two from banking, two from healthcare, two from education, and [a few from] infrastructure, fast moving consumer goods and biomedical engineering [industries].
What was interesting was the differences between industries. So the banking CIOs were very focused on value, specifically, ‘We are doing exploration but we only do it so we can put that new technology in and exploit it’.
The healthcare [industry] was more about saving people’s lives so saying [things like], ‘This is the reason I’m here: I’m not here to make money, I’m here because I can save someone’s life’ and that really motivates their team. When you think about the risk of a healthcare CIO, they said, ‘If we make a mistake, somebody could die.’
It’s not like a bank where if you deposit someone’s interest into their bank account and [the system] goes haywire, you can roll it back. So some barriers we found were very strong in some industries and not in others. Specifically risk in banking was very strong.
CIO: What are the barriers that you discovered that have stopped CIOs from finding and exploiting technology?
Kalgovas: The really big one I found was indirect reporting. CIOs that have never reported to the CEO didn’t find indirect reporting a barrier; they didn’t see the issue with that. The ones [CIOs] that have reported to the CFO and then reported to the CEO [did see it as a barrier].
That linked in with the recommendation that you are trusted and really not just [a question of] ‘have you got a seat on the boardroom table?’ [but] you are involved when they are [putting together] a strategy for the organisation. One CIO was talking about cloud computing and said, ‘I can talk to the CEO and say look this has legs and this hasn’t with cloud computing’ as opposed to just being told that you are doing cloud computing.
It changes because IT is part of your strategy and not something you are hearing [about] second hand from the CFO who only cares about costs. So that was a really big barrier that we found.
The risk-averse nature of the business also came up as well as complexity of a project. What’s interesting about [this] is when you have complexity you want to break it down into small deliverables. Initially we thought that was “agile”, but the CIOs were saying, ‘We are not just doing that with small projects [such as] redesigning a website, we will do that with big projects as well’. So they saw that as a key way to overcome the barrier of complexity.
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