1. Discuss your career in IT. How did you get to where you are today?
My career in technology has always been around transformation. I began my career in the late 1990s working through almost all areas within technology from development, system, network, IT security, governance and strategy. I decided during the start of my career that I did not want to specialise in any specific areas within IT but rather understand how to work with multiple solutions to deliver an outcome focusing more on transformation and change.
The highlight of my career was back in 2004 when I was working for one of the largest banks in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates where I was given the opportunity to take over the ‘run’ function of IT which included system support, infrastructure, IT security, and quality control. My focus was to increase transparency and transform the department from a back end function to business enablers.
This was an interesting period as we managed to do several projects that not only excited the business but also technology geeks. The time to implement was unbelievable to start off with but it was ultimately achieved and included changing core banking in 16 months or all the back end infrastructure in 12 months.
My motto was simple: Automate repetitive tasks and focus my time on implementing transformational initiatives. Following this, I was given responsibility for strategy and rationalisation to look at how cost can be optimised by mapping technology to business value. This was an excellent learning exercise as I also forced myself to get out of my comfort zone, which I think played an important role in the growth of my career.
Following this, I undertook roles at two large banks, setting up target operating models for IT. During my time at the second bank, we had more than 40 transformation initiatives, which had to be completed in 18 months to move towards fabric and automation. The reason for my success in all my previous roles comes down to looking at IT as a business enabler and ensuring every change and transformation initiative within IT had a business outcome or value.
It also comes down to how we can market and communicate the success across business. My role today is to help organisations and people get on the same journey and enable IT departments to focus less on day-to-day activities and build strategic relationship with the business.
2. What are the biggest lessons you have learned throughout your career?
Nothing is impossible. Over the years, I have worked on projects that were considered impossible. These projects were completed in good time and were regional and global firsts. I have both been part of and led some of these initiatives and all of them, including automation and digital initiatives, have provided operational cost efficiencies and increased revenue for their respective organisations.
Good project management comes down to looking at what then how, and what being more on business outcome. It’s difficult for organisations to get big budgets for innovation and transformation, and even though ambition exists, very few complete the journey.
Vendor partnerships are also key to project success. Many vendors will invest time and money to achieve something that gives them a point of difference in the local market and globally. Partnering with vendors helps you leverage their global capabilities and technology knowledge, which will contribute to your organisation’s growth. Partnering has helped me get the right budget and use the savings to refinance the next transformation initiative.
4. Which technologies will drive the industry and your particular market sector this year?
Rather than start talking about technologies that will drive industry, I would say the biggest business drivers in today’s market are delivering a high value and seamless customer experience at a reasonable cost, which is enabled by automation and digital technologies. My view is that organisations need to reduce spend on activities that are monotonous and have people focus on the true transformation drivers.
We are all given the capability to think and act based on analysis and if a job is routine, we are wasting the energy, time and individual’s capabilities. This will not only make it interesting for employees in organisations but also help them spend time looking at re-engineering processes or technology. The next four years will be about moving to cloud, bots, and artificial intelligence technologies, which will reduce operational cost, provide business value, and increase efficiency.
Profitable organisations like Uber, Alibaba, and Amazon have reduced manual intervention and straight through processing, which enables staff to focus on true value. If organisations don’t start doing that soon enough we will see history repeat itself as it did with Kodak and Nokia.
5. What are the biggest threats to the CIO role today in your opinion? (The rise of the CDO and digital teams potentially relegating the CIO to managing traditional IT?)
I was reading a recent article in Forbes which talks about every company being a tech company. I don’t believe this is a threat to CIOs, rather the role has evolved from traditional IT management to driving business transformations. CIOs have an opportunity to add real business value and this is best era for IT chiefs because technology has taken the front seat and plays a huge role in organisational growth.
The door is now open for CIOs with aspirations to become CEOs. Technology is so pervasive and CIOs are really in the driver’s seat.
6. What advice do you have for senior technology staff looking to become IT chiefs? What skills do they need to succeed in the role?
Firstly, there are hundreds of people who can speak the language of technology but very few can translate that to business value. Secondly, spend time outside your comfort zone. Set achievable targets and deal with the bumps in the road. It’s a learning experience but if you stay on course, you will achieve your goals.
*All statements in the interview are personal opinion and do not represent any organisation.
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