Chief innovator, chief influencer and chief interrupter – regardless of name, the reality is that tomorrow’s CIO must drive change and be at the forefront of the future world of work.
While the list of jobs placed on CIOs’ shoulders seems to keep mounting, one thing is for certain they are in charge of defining and executing forward-thinking business strategies to ensure their company not only survives but thrives.
This was more than evident at one of our recent CIO forums where we asked each participant: What’s keeping you up at night?
Aside from the usual concerns facing CIOs on a daily basis, the group highlighted two key areas:
- How do we influence the culture of the business to adopt change?
- How do we manage change and lead teams while going through it ourselves?
Transurban’s group GM of technology, Lisa Tobin, pointed out that CIOs have to work ‘two desks’ to successfully manage existing workloads as well as future projects.
Tobin said her workload was split into two areas. On one hand, she manages the existing business platform, and on the other, she’s increasing people’s awareness about change, organisational resilience and allocating rare, but needed, resources to build platforms for ‘digitally-disrupted’ business models.
“These things don’t happen overnight,” Tobin said. “Our team really is split into two themes – what some people are calling the bi-modal nature of technology these days, and the core focus is; ‘what do I do now and how might I think differently in the future?’
“It is our job to bring together what is happening in technology, consumer expectations, an understanding of what technology means for the business and how they all work together,” Tobin said.
CIO of ME (formerly ME Bank), Mark Gay, feels any CIO who isn’t worried about adapting to change and the role digital disruption plays in an industry should be updating their CV.
“While CIOs are busier than ever, they still need to remember that the ‘I’ in CIO stands for information not infrastructure,” Gay said.
“CIOs need to be agitators and think differently – that’s the role of the CIO in the digital world. A lot of CIOs have fallen into the trap of just focusing on the infrastructure, but in the digital age it’s all about information, how it’s digested and how it impacts customers. Getting that balance right is more important than ever.
“A further challenge is to think more like a digital customer and less like an organisation,” Gay said.
Gay said companies often require a budget to train staff to use newly-built systems.
“So why is it that we never require training when we use Facebook, Uber and Ebay?” he asked. “The reason is because these companies have cracked the customer design conundrum, by building from the outside looking in rather than the other way.
“If we need a budget for training on a new system, we didn’t build it properly to start with. This is the first step towards driving change and the way people think,” he said.
Industry veteran and CIO of global mining firm, MMG, Peter McLure, said the days where information technologists seen as specialists in white coats in the corner are long gone.
“Now everyone has a smartphone and a great level of understanding about the field,” McLure said.
“The biggest challenge we face as an industry is navigating to a digital future. The key for us now is to work with the business to create an overall design for that future.
“By just responding to the loudest voices, you are most likely to create the next shanty town, which you will have to bulldoze tomorrow. We need to be looking ahead and to plan accordingly.”
A louder voice
McLure said based on his experience, the industry is having more of a voice at the board table, but there is still a lot of work to be done with building the skill sets of CIOs.
“The CIO has a very broad role – they must be across all aspects of the operation at a finer detail and have an understanding of processes and key pain points.
“At the same time, they have to operate at a fairly abstract level and be looking at how to take the company forward. It can be very demanding to be across all of this and still be looking at future trends,” he said.
He added that in a sense, a CIO has to almost be a ‘superhero’ to fill all requirements of the role and they need to the ability to operate in the board room and on the front line.
“If you can’t influence the key decision makers, it will become pretty hard for you to push for change within the company,” he said.
The power of language and building trust within all levels of the company seems to be a key factor when speaking to CIOs and the people who work directly with them.
Transurban’ s Tobin reported the power of having and leading conversations is paramount to CIOs winning trust within the company and their own team.
“I think are we having the right conversation internally but are we using the right language to keep the conversation going with the company?” Tobin said.
“Technology and adapting to change is about confidence and building trust that we can execute what we say and need.
“It’s about having the right dialogue with your business colleagues and influencing for future possibilities and future needs. It’s particularly hard given the need to take positions on emerging technology, agreeing how you might incubate and trial emerging technology to discover the value for your business,” she said.
“We just have to be brave to take the right step and consistently show the evidence that we can’t keep doing the same thing to compete.”
Damien Ross is the CEO at Davidson Technology.
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